The Cradle Of Innovation: A Proper Organisational Culture
If organisations cannot get rid of their old-fashioned mindset, they will fail
by Patrick Halek
Organisational culture: something very down-to-earth
To some, organisational culture is still something too fluffy to be defined concretely. It is nice to know about it - but not down-to-earth enough for the jungle out there.
This disbelieve makes it still hard for some to understand how crucial organisational culture is to success and impact - be it in business, science or societal.
Organisational culture is something very down-to-earth. It is carried by distinct values, attitudes, dos and don'ts. These factors can easily be developed and lived up to concretely – without being too mechanistic or segregated from an organic perspective.
These factors set the basis for thinking and acting, distinction and success. These factors define what is important to us, how we see things, which atmosphere we create, which structures we live up to and how we work together. They define how able we are to have a clear vision, find the right strategy and implement it - how stiff or flexible, reluctant or open we are. These factors define how we cope with change and create it, how passively or actively we face the future.
Old fashioned – what's old fashioned?
Although most organisations claim to have gotten rid of classical stiff and hierarchic approaches, fact seems: they haven't. Still, many organisations live up to old-fashioned mindsets and structures. That means: ideas and information cannot flow freely but are bound to certain formal steps to be taken. Hierarcy per se does not necessarily equal blocking the flow. But it does as soon as it does not allow competences, information and knowledge to connect. This way, it is very hard to create advancement. Ideas, information and knowledge get diluted or lost completely. Boldly: advancement gets blocked and goes down the drain.
The result: formal criteria and thinking create a culture of keeping the status quo and satisfying the management's needs rather than creating advancement, innovation and impact. Most organisational charts show it perfectly: structures and processes are building solid dams rather than creating flow.
From administrating to creating
Many organisational structures and processes are still based on administrating the status quo. They are not based on seeking opportunities, advancement and entrepreneurial challenges. The bigger an organisation and the more "established" the bigger the tendency to administrate rather than create. And the roots for doing so are cultural aspects.
There is still that supposed security, that feeling of "too well-established" or "too big to fail". Especially the last years showed us, though, how wrong this can be. Why? Because being established does not equal security, it more and more equals inflexibility and losing touch. The result: organisations are losing their purpose and vitality ignoring their potential and their tipping-point which might just be around the corner. Whenever an organisation seeks security in keeping the status quo without seeking new horizons it almost automatically falls behind compared to those who seek advancement. Change never sleeps and makes those fall behind who stand still.
The fear of change is often linked to the believe that stability and security might be at stake. This is one of the most crucial misperceptions, though, when it comes to organisational or societal issues. Why? Because change is permanent – which means the harder we try not to change the more unstable and shaky it gets around us.
Change is good – if you create it
Change does not simply happen but is always created by someone. Just being the constant follower always implies the danger of being viewed as "me-too" or "copy-paste". No differentiation, no clear USP – and most important – no authentic attraction and credibility can be offered. Just following trends and relying on established networks and sales channels means playing at high risk. They might vanish within the blink of an eye – because authenticity and differentiation vanish as change moves on.
So, following change is not enough because that way others define our direction, speed and position. It has to be about creating change which means creating uniqueness and their own distinct position. It has to be about creating flow producing continuous attraction.
Therefore, it takes a proper mindset in order to choreograph constant flow and change. This means: blending different perspectives, information and competences into a continuous, productive mode of creating knowledge and advantage – be it competitive or societal. And that is exactly where a proper organisational culture kicks in.
Knowledge needs exchange
The basis to an attractive and competitive product is knowledge. It takes exchange in order to develop such knowledge. If that exchange does not work, products do not work because they cannot be advanced properly and they fall behind. Therefore, advancement and innovation need the most productive exchange possible. That is what an organisational culture has to cater to.
To many organisations, the greatest challenge is dealing with old-fashioned structures and processes blocking continuous, productive exchange. Still, in many organisations there is a restrictive mindset – sticking to a static view rather than fostering fresh options. Mostly, the reason for such view is fear evolving from an ancient educational background killing any dynamic flow.
It takes an organisational approach fostering the exchange of ideas and information and generating knowledge on a lateral basis - without any formal hurdles, filters and dams. This produces a continuous, productive process setting the base to organisational fitness. It creates a continuous flow and a culture of connecting - fostering continuous advancement and innovation.
Innovation is not just nice – it is crucial
To some, the issue of innovation has become somewhat "hip". One can hear: "Well, we are into innovation right now as well. It's cool to listen to some of those nerds. Let's see what we can bring to ‘real life' then anyway." Some organisations forget that in ‘real life' it is their products and services which bring them revenue and income. If those are not attractive anymore, no one will buy them anymore. So, keeping products and services attractive is essential, so to speak. And that is exactly why advancement and innovation make a crucial difference. Innovation is not about nerds and technology. It is about connecting people and knowledge creating advancement. Advancement which keeps products and services attractive.
A proper organisational culture - the cradle of innovation
So, finally, what does "proper" mean when it comes to organisational culture? Actually, it is most simple: an organisation and its culture is not supposed to exist for itself or to serve the status quo. If an organisation cannot connect all relevant perspectives, competences, information and knowledge in a fruitful and productive way, how can there be advancement and innovation catering to attractive products and services?
Establishing innovation-hubs, like some organisations did or are about to do, does mostly not exactly address such problem. Why? Because whatever the outcome of those hubs might be, at some point, it will have to be connected "properly" to the "rest" of the entire organisation. So, finally, it is always a question of an overall organisational approach.
Therefore, to summon it up, a proper organisational culture is based on creating ongoing impact by exchanging, cooperating and learning. It is not based on formal restrictions, vanity and keeping the status quo. Here are 3 questions you can ask yourself to make it concrete:
1. What are our strengths and weaknesses regarding cooperative behaviour, open exchange and dealing with advancement?
2. How do our values and habits, structures and processes reflect those strengths and weaknesses?
3. How do those strengths and weaknesses foster or prevent our future position we want to have?
Change is permanent – so creating advancement and innovation has to be, too. But: this does not mean ignoring their own basis, competences, knowledge and values - starting all over again and leaving all well-proven behind. A sane, well-structured innovative process always starts from a solid home-base. Even start ups start from where they are: from their own (core)competences, knowledge and values.
If innovation processes happen only once in a while, the pressure of time and the must of success take over. They are not part of a continuous development carried by a culture of constant advancement. This way, they cause a reluctant attitude because they do not connect to present achievements. A big mistake, since this leads to breaks and cuts wasting a lot of energy, time and money.