How to nurture a thriving culture of innovation in an organisation

Tuesday October 4 2016


I was recently invited to speak at a forum on how to start an innovation programme. We focused on how to create an environment that encourages innovation. We also wanted to make it as simple and straight forward as possible. This was informed by the fact that innovation programmes should make things effective, more systematic and predictable.

We focused on how to make processes focused, well appreciating the fact that different types of triggers could lead to the initiation of such innovation programmes. We agreed that for innovation to happen, you do not need to wait for a crisis, or for the most inspired moment.

It should be a factor of a continuous focused process. We also agreed that the three important elements of an innovation programme are the idea, management process and the buzz created around the program as well as the training and development that goes into the programme.

An idea management process is very important. When you design an idea management process you need to pay attention to the source of ideas, their scope, the number of stages an idea will go through. You also need to plan the technology to be used, the idea selection process, and how ideas will be supported and sponsored.

You must ensure that selfish supervisors do not run off with juniors’ ideas because this can only stifle innovation. You must not yield to the temptation of emphasizing big ideas. Instead, appreciate the fact that cumulative impact of small ideas goes a long way towards obtaining the desired change.

Sense of independence

When you encourage small ideas you create an innovation culture in the organisation. When small ideas are taken on board, they tend to create a positive buzz that will work better than fear in generating new ideas.

This gives the employees a sense of independence in their work. This sense of independence in turn creates a thinking culture on how to do things differently. When people continuously think of what could be done differently for better results, they have begun engaging in continuous innovation.

If you want to know whether you are making progress or not, you only need to continuously ask yourself about the number of ideas that are in the pipeline in your organisation and the percentage of employees who have given new ideas over the last year.

You examine the rhythm of the innovation programme. How frequently do people meet? Who attends the programme? What decisions are taken? Have you defined goals for your innovation programme? Have you defined an idea management process? Did you roll out a campaign? Have you formed an innovation programme committee? Have you rolled out any training and awareness?

When you answer these questions you realise the importance of laying a solid foundation if meaningful innovation is to happen. You realise the need for appropriate tools and techniques to aid this important process.

Primary among the tools and techniques is the creation of an idea pipeline. The identification of challenges and possible solutions is the beginning of the entire process. That’s is why the challenge book is a primary tool of this process.

— In the next article we look at what challenge book is.

David Muturi is the chief executive of the Kenya Institute of Management.