Why Traditional Thinking on Innovation Culture Must Evolve
Written by Josh Gould, Director of Innovation, Duquesne Light Company
Culture has become both a buzzword and something of a nirvana. Everyone from management theorists to military generals to CEOs are asking culture to do everything: drive diversity and inclusion; create growth; improve safety and efficiency; and, maybe most of all, generate innovation.
How we get culture wrong
While culture is lionized and supposedly “eats strategy for breakfast,” the emphasis seems to be on measuring it via employee surveys. The thinking is you can’t improve what you don’t measure. So ask your employees how you’re doing culturally, then construct a plan to address any issues. Simple and easy, right?
The problem is that conventional wisdom only addresses half of the cultural challenge. Culture is ultimately an output and outcome, a lagging indicator of many individual and management decisions, actions and even words that all add up to that nebulous thing we call culture.
What we need to measure
If the goal is to change and improve the culture, then we need to measure, incent and improve the inputs and leading indicators that produce culture. That requires answering two seemingly obvious questions: “What culture do we want?” and “What are the behaviors that produce the culture that we want?”
Culture and innovation should be inseparable. It’s important to seek a culture where everyone is empowered and enabled to innovate. When innovation is included in culture, companies can better achieve their goals, shape their future and serve their customers and communities. Diversity, equity and inclusion are critical to that innovation, whether it’s a company’s project portfolio or the diversity of its team members.
You improve what you measure
Measuring your culture via employee surveys is necessary and important, but it is only one part of the story. It’s true that companies “get what they measure” as it relates to culture. That’s why we need to identify and measure the inputs and leading indicators that generate the culture we seek. The best historical innovations — like the printing press for an increasingly literate population, or the telephone for a rapidly globalizing world — serve a culture’s emerging needs.
To drive a more innovative culture, you must first define the culture you want, identify the inputs needed to generate that culture and then measure those inputs rigorously and regularly. Cultures may be a work in progress, but being strategic about what and how you measure will help you move in the right direction.
This article first appeared in the Pittsburgh Business Times on April 15, 2021.