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5 Steps To A Brand Culture That Drives Innovation

diverse-officeThese days every business wants to be known as innovative. Every company wants a reputation for outside-the-box creative thinking. Everybody wants to be the disruptor and not among the disrupted. Trouble is, very few businesses ever really attain that status. Most managers have no idea how to inject innovation into their teams. They can’t imagine how they can ask to see more creativity out of their employees. Fortunately, last year, Accenture completed a study that revealed the answer: Equality. They found that when businesses that had a brand culture of inclusiveness and fair treatment of everyone, employees felt more empowered to strive for innovative solutions.

You can’t just demand that staff start displaying more innovation. But you can build a brand culture that will serve as fertile soil for innovative ideas and risk-taking. It may take a little time to bring a culture of innovation up to full speed but it’s worth it in the end. Take these five steps.

Step One: Diversify
Get some flavor into your workforce. Hire men and women. Young and old. Gay and straight. Abled and disabled. Hire every race and every religion. Hire returning military and worthy ex-cons. Hire immigrants – from everywhere. If you can, hire people experiencing homelessness. Hire from prestigious universities and from small community colleges. When you’re reviewing résumés and interviewing prospective hires, look for unique professional backgrounds and life experiences. Build your talent pool as wide and as deep as you can so, no matter what business challenges you face, you’ll have someone on board with relevant experience.

Step Two: Equal Treatment
Make it clear to everyone that they will all be treated fairly. You can’t just talk the talk here. You have to walk the walk too. Praise in public. Reprimand in private. Pay should be commensurate with the duties performed, regardless of age but, of course, in keeping with levels of experience. Set standards for advancement and apply them equally to everyone. Make sure everyone has opportunity to improve and move up the ladder. It’s important that your workforce not only hears they’re appreciated, respected and being treated fairly. They have to believe they’re appreciated, respected and being treated fairly. And make sure your workplace is safe for all.

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Step Three: Cross Pollinate
Have your people work in teams and make sure the teams are diversified as well. Again, men and women, young and old, etc. But also diversify by making the teams inter-departmental and/or cross-functional. Destroy all silos. This allows the challenge at hand to be approached from 360°.

Step Four: Environment
Now set the correct working conditions to allow your teams to be innovative. Do this, and you won’t have to beg them to start thinking creatively. It will just start to happen. Make sure everyone understands the brand purpose (explained here) and is rowing in the same direction. Ensure everybody understands the assignment. Make sure the team has the resources necessary to innovate. Give it autonomy; trust it to get the work done. Encourage your people to find inspiration outside of the organization. Reward courage; there are no dumb ideas. And encourage experimentation – but with the mantra: fail often, fail quickly.

That’s all easy, right? No problem. We’ll all be innovators by the end of the week. Seriously, it’s easy to condense everything to a five-step outline. But it can be maddeningly difficult to diversify a workforce, especially if it’s already in place and entrenched in a that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it mindset. If your current staff is comfortable with the status quo, if they’re all white men who grew up in the suburbs and went to the same schools, it will take a long time to build a brand culture of innovation. It’s the diversity of backgrounds that allows people to surprise each other with unexpected perspectives. Those surprising points of view spark new ideas, productive debate and profitable innovations. But you can’t let people go just because they’re not innovative enough. If you have a homogenous workforce that’s halfway competent, you have to work with what you’ve got. You either have to inspire them or wait for them to retire. What can be done in the meantime? That brings us to the final action.

Step Five: Leadership
Funny, isn’t it, that it always all comes down to leadership? As manager of the workforce you can inspire a culture of innovation. The can-do attitude you demonstrate will be infectious, at least to some. Your willingness to fail often, fail quickly will encourage others to do the same. Even if you can’t take Steps 1 though 4 perfectly and completely, you can do your best to pull the best out of your team. You can still tell them you expect innovation from them and you’ll begin to get, at least, some results. Again, it may take a while for you to gain a reputation as The Big Idea Factory, a font of innovation, but you’ll get there in the end.

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