Arena Blog

Drivers of Innovation, Part II: The Right Culture

linked-in icon twitter-icon facebook-icon

As we noted in Part I of this series, innovation starts with the right mindset. But an innovation mindset alone is not enough. It must be embodied in and inform another critical driver of innovation: the right culture.

As described in our report, The New Product Innovation Paradigm: Evolving Products to Platforms in a Changing World, an organization’s culture consists of the explicit and implicit norms, attitudes, and behaviors that govern how people interact and how work gets done. While leaders often set the tone through their words and actions, culture is not something that can be imposed from above. Instead, an organization’s culture is created from the ground up by the people who work there. This means that hiring the right people is key to creating and maintaining a culture of innovation.

Take Dataspeed, a company that provides turnkey drive-by-wire systems for companies developing autonomous vehicles. This is an organization that is constantly evolving its designs, adopting new approaches, and devising new solutions for each project. As an organization, it needs to be flexible and its culture needs to be collaborative. Accordingly, prospective employees need to fit that norm.

“We look for people who are adaptable and open to new ideas because the situation here is constantly changing. We want to make sure the people we hire have the correct mindset and can operate in this type of environment,” says Dataspeed Chief Operating Officer Greg Fleck.

Hiring with an eye to culture is more about fit than about specific skills. Yes, people need to be able to do the job they were hired to do. That’s a given. But if a company wants to innovate, it needs to hire skilled people who are also committed to innovation. What’s more, the company needs to encourage this commitment by welcoming new ideas and potential contrary opinions. This openness is particularly critical as the company grows from a small organization, led by visionary founders, to a large organization that depends on hundreds of people working together to achieve multiple goals. By reinforcing this commitment to innovation across the organization, leaders can have a lasting impact even as they come to rely on more people to realize their vision.

It is with an eye to promoting openness to new ideas that innovative companies also benefit from hiring people with diverse backgrounds. Doing so brings new thinking to the table and can help broaden the company’s perspective with regard to the marketplace, the company’s target audience, and even their operating model. Of course, once hired, these employees need to be inspired and supported by a workplace that invites open dialogue, experimentation, and failing fast.

The beauty in all this is that, specific skill sets aside, hiring based on a commitment to the company’s innovation mission and a demonstrated enthusiasm for new ideas and approaches creates an organization that is inherently flexible. Being able to adapt to changing circumstances, whether they involve emerging technological possibilities, new competitors, or even a global pandemic, is critical to the long-term survival of innovative organizations. When you hire with these attributes in mind, that adaptability is built in.

Building the right culture, by hiring people with the right mindset and shared commitment to the mission, is a critical driver of innovation. However, to unlock the potential of this culture and these people, companies need the necessary enabling technologies or systems. We’ll take a closer look at the necessary characteristics of these systems in our next installment.

For now, you might ask yourself the following questions regarding your organization’s culture:

  • Are you hiring people who are aligned with your culture of innovation?
  • Are you hiring people with diverse backgrounds who can offer new perspectives?
  • Are you empowering and encouraging employees to contribute to your innovation mission?