The business landscape is always changing, and the rate of change is arguably faster today than it’s ever been. New technology keeps making it easier to connect people, processes, and data in the blink of an eye all over the world, and reveal insights about coming trends and disruptions. All of this can give companies the ability to better understand, target, and satisfy their clients.

One downside to all this change is the change itself, as it can put an enormous burden on businesses just to keep up. Not only do businesses have to navigate industry, client, technology, regulatory, and societal changes, they are challenged with attempting to do so without losing an inch of ground to the competition.

Adopting a culture of innovation is a critical way to navigate change and stay competitive in ways that benefit your clients as well as your employees. When your company has an innovative culture, it fundamentally sees the value in asking questions, pursuing knowledge, and flexing the imagination. It embraces technology and honors creativity. Additionally, it gives employees the freedom to go down a path just because it’s interesting. The result is new and better products that not only delight clients but can help move your company to the forefront of its field. 

Here’s a closer look at why a culture of innovation is especially important today and how you can create or strengthen your own. 

Why you need an innovation culture

Companies that understood early on the concept of agility and championed the use of digital tools were often able to leave their competitors behind. Today, start-ups are a good example of how a nimble, innovative attitude can help a business scale quickly and carve out a market niche for itself.  

Even if your company isn’t a start-up, it still has the capacity to make significant leaps. When you extend innovation beyond the domain of your product development team and make it a mission and a value throughout the organization, that’s where the real magic happens. 

A culture of innovation is modeled at the highest levels by leadership, but it’s established one employee at a time. Each of your employees needs to believe and participate in the company’s commitment to innovation. In this way, your workforce collectively gains confidence in the company’s ability to respond to industry disruptions, achieve long-term growth, and consistently deliver quality products and services. When everyone in your workforce values innovation and sees that it works, they’re more likely to stay at your organization. As a bonus, others may be more inclined to come work for you, too. 

Innovation begets innovation, showing your clients that your business has the means to keep pace with evolving needs, and showing your employees that the company is a dynamic, exciting place to work. Even better, when your company culture and innovation strategy are aligned, it’s possible to see a 30% growth in value and a 17% growth in profit. 

How to build a product innovation culture

To build a product innovation culture in your company, or to strengthen it, here are some important actions you can take:

  • Start by asking some questions. What’s happening in your industry? What are your competitors doing? What are you doing better or where do you need to catch up? How will your business stay relevant down the road? When you pose questions like these, you can use the answers you come up with to give employees a clear sense of purpose around innovation. 
  • Gather employee suggestions. If you want your employees to have a stake in product innovation, it’s important to ask them for their feedback. They’re down in the trenches, talking to clients every day, identifying problems that need to be solved, and thinking critically about how your existing products and services measure up. Whether it’s a simple “suggestion box” — actual or digital — or some other means for gathering feedback, make it a habit to regularly tap employees for their ideas.  
  • Share results and outcomes. By the same token, when your company implements or develops a process, tool, or product that directly came from an employee’s idea, be sure to show any measurable results or outcomes. Sharing successes with your workforce helps inspire more employees to voice their ideas and become more deeply engaged in the company’s innovation mission.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure. Not every idea turns out to be a good one, but what you learn from a failure holds tremendous value. Rather than retreating when failure happens, encourage your employees to apply what they’ve learned and continue to be creative. The more ideas that are generated, the more likely someone will strike gold.  
  • Recruit for innovation. When it’s time to increase workforce capacity, make sure you’re recruiting and hiring candidates who strongly exhibit talent or preference for creative thinking. Over time, you’ll build a workforce with more and more people who are primed for and especially driven to innovate.

Product innovation isn’t just about gaining a leg up in the market. It’s also a key component of a company culture that informs and infuses everything with creativity, foresight, and energy. Your clients can feel it and see it in your brand and products. Perhaps more importantly, your employees can feel it and see it, too, which can give your company a strong advantage when dealing with the next change or disruption.

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