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Creating A Culture Of Innovation

Danny Groh, VP, Innovation
#Phase2 | Posted

From frustration to elation. Crushing doubt to buoyant hope. These were just some of the emotions expressed at the recent World Forum Disrupt Strategy and Innovation  conference our team attended in New York. 

At what is likely our last in-person event for a while, this one-day forum gave our Innovation Team the opportunity to meet our counterparts from organizations like Citi, J&J, Diageo, Infosys, Unilever, and more. We struck up conversations with the VP of Product Strategy at BNY Mellon, a senior team member of the Digital Innovation Group at J.P. Morgan, a healthcare marketer leading innovation efforts for his hospital, and even the head of innovation at a national church organization. 

As we listened to the presenters throughout the day, I started to think about something. All the industry leaders we spoke to and heard from experienced satisfaction, joy, triumph, and hope when the outcomes of their innovation efforts were successful. They also experienced disappointment, frustration, and doubt. It’s probably obvious, but leading innovation work isn’t for the faint of heart.

I was also struck by something else. Overall, Phase2 has already been employing many of the suggestions, tips, and tricks that we heard from these industry powerhouses. The way we approach innovation is very much in line with the likes of Citi, J&J, etc.

Recently, our strong culture of innovation is allowing us to continue to operate at 100% and maintain our momentum in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read more in this recent blog post.

THE NECESSARY DUALITY OF INNOVATION

The upside of leading innovation efforts is that it is challenging, interesting, and rewarding work. It is meaningful work. When it is clear these efforts are making a difference and positive change is happening, there is no better feeling. When we start to see the additional value we are capable of providing, we are filled with a sense of accomplishment and resolve. However, there is a darker side: the struggle of constant change and evolution. There is no solid ground for people to get their footing, and it can feel like there is no one right way to do things. At times it may even feel like we are in a small boat, adrift in an angry sea.

Unfortunately, not everyone can operate naturally in this dynamic environment. Some of the conference speakers and attendees talked about this very real struggle and how it can easily derail innovation. It can be frustrating to keep on tweaking, changing, moving. But this kinetic nature of innovation is necessary, otherwise the opportunity to create more value and momentum will slowly fade away.

A CULTURE OF INNOVATION

As I mentioned above, Phase2 has a strong culture of innovation that we’ve created over the years. I would like to share with you some of the ways our company thinks about innovation and how we work to create a culture that embraces it. 

In summary, here is how we navigate this necessary duality of innovation.

1) DEFINE INNOVATION

The very first thing is to clearly and succinctly define what innovation is for your organization. Here at Phase2, our company vision is to create digital experiences that advance the human experience. We support that vision in many ways, including through our company-wide innovation efforts. As such, we have a simple definition that we use internally that directly supports our vision.

2) SPREAD THE WORD

If you define it they will come? No, definitely not. You will have to spend the time spreading the word constantly through storytelling. While internal communications and PR can take a backseat to the core work of the business, enrollment around company-wide innovation efforts is critical. Repeating the narrative through various channels and methods will help to spread and solidify the message. 

3) CREATE A DECIDER BOARD

You will need to create a small group of trusted champions. This close group of people should have the authority and  accountability to make company-level decisions. Here at Phase2, we call this our Innovation Jam. To make sure we are getting diverse input, we also have a rotating contingent of staff members who are known as our Innovation Ambassadors who give us the perspective from the front-lines. Diversity of thought and experience is a key ingredient to successful innovation efforts, so make sure to include this vital element in your decider board.

4) ADAPT OFTEN

Adaptable organizations will always come out ahead. If you take a step back and find that you are complacent, or on autopilot, or not making progress towards your goals, start to question if the way you are running your innovation work still has merit and value. If it doesn’t, then adapt accordingly. If you have an innovation script or process that is carved in stone, this is an indicator that you are sliding into a false sense of security. Remember, there is a necessary duality of innovation so always look to adapt to continue meeting the vision and goals of your organization.

5) WAYS OF BEING 

The above points are focused on DOing something. Most people think they need to DO something (spread the word) in order to HAVE a certain thing (more enrollment), which will then allow them to BE what they want (impactful). However, I want to emphasise something here with this point. A better way is to BE something or strive to BE something first. For innovation, you need people who are or can be daring, fearless, brave, and audacious. It takes resilience and tenacity to keep on keeping on. These ways of being will help as you do the above, which will result in HAVING a culture of innovation.

GET AN EXTERNAL PERSPECTIVE

At the end of this very valuable conference, my team and I found a little corner bar in Brooklyn right under the Manhattan Bridge and reflected on the day. We went through a “rose, thorn, bud” exercise. This simple, but effective exercise is a great way to reflect on an experience of any size. In a nutshell, rather than asking “What did you think of the conference?”, we asked each other what our rose was (something good we experienced that day), what our thorn was (something not so good), and what our bud was (something we are looking forward to or interested in learning more about). We continued to talk about how we would take this day, which provided an external perspective, and distill it into something great for our organization.

If you are leading or taking part in helping your organization to change, grow, or innovate, I encourage you to find a way to step back and reflect on this amazing, challenging, and rewarding work. Find a way to get an external perspective, like this post, and know that there are others like my team and me who are just as excited about innovation as you are. 

REAP THE REWARDS

It has taken many years for our organization to have a culture that supports innovation. These efforts are manifested through our vision, core values, and our amazing people. This culture has helped us to create new offerings for our customers, helped us continue to evolve as a company into new service areas, and helped us to have highly engaged employees. And like I mentioned at the very beginning of the post, it has helped us to remain strong but flexible during this new environment the COVID-19 pandemic has created.

Feel free to reach out to us if you want to talk more about creating a culture of innovation in your organization.

Danny Groh

Danny Groh

VP, Innovation