May 28

So you want to innovate do you?

So you want to innovate. Well you are not alone; an Accenture report in 2013 revealed that 93% of executives believed that long-term success was dependant on their ability to innovate. However, the same report said that just 18% of executives thought that their innovation strategy was delivering a competitive advantage. And herein lies the problem; businesses may want to innovate; they may even think that they are innovating, but the reality is far from the ideal.

Dig deeper and the reasons for the discrepancy start to emerge. To be successful, innovation more often than not requires a complete cultural change throughout the organisation. But far too many businesses think that innovation is a bolt-on extra or can be carried out by ‘the few’ whilst the rest of the organisation carries on regardless. Make no mistake; in order to create differentiated experiences and to stand out ahead of the crowd, a culture of innovation has to infuse every nook and cranny of a business from supplier to customer and from boardroom to post room. Thinking, processes, approach, all have to change or a business is just wasting its time.

The need to radically change every part of a business is an approach, which David Ziegler of Ace Hardware knows only too well. Speaking to the Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation section recently David was asked about the way in which their move to an innovation culture had enabled Ace Hardware to post record profits. Admitting that at the outset it took a lot of hard work to turn a quantity driven mentality into one which embraced quality, David spoke of “a tremendous effort by the board and management team to have fewer, but higher-quality initiatives” and the positive impact of this on the retailers.

David’s twin recipe for innovation success is to have ‘an overflowing trust bucket’ and ‘clarity on your strategic purpose.’ David says “If everybody is going down the same path with the same objective and an overflowing trust bucket, then people feel comfortable with taking risks and failing.” Having trust, embracing failure; these are essential elements of an innovation culture but they can be the hardest traits for the leadership team to embrace. Moving from a hierarchical, regimented culture into one, which empowers and treats failure as a learning point is counter-intuitive for many leaders. But if innovation is to succeed then trust and empowerment have to flow.

The worry for many leaders is that when empowerment comes in the door, structure flies out of the window. And to some extent that is the case, but only if that structure is hierarchical, regimented and silo driven. Innovation is not the same as anarchy and innovation cultures still need values and strategy to drive them. The difference is that the company ethos has changed from satisfying the needs of the internal process to creating exceptional and differentiated customer experiences.

So innovation still needs strategies and once those strategies have been defined it needs leadership with a focus on creating a culture, which embraces innovation. Only then, once that innovation roadmap has been created can organisations look to resetting the organisational DNA and moving forward with an innovation culture that creates long term success. Creating a culture of innovation is not rocket science but it does require strong leadership and the desire and drive to transform the organisation.

Everyone says they want or need to drive innovation but few actually do. If you want to be one of the few and you’ve got a question, ask Cris on or visit for more information.



Competitive Advantage, Culture Change, Customer Experience, Innovation Culture, Innovation strategy

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