LorenaA company’s culture is often an elusive concept to describe, but a very obvious thing to witness in the day-in and day-out of doing business. My favorite attempt to define corporate culture comes from Terry Deal and Allan Kennedy who simply described it as “the way we do things around here.” Sure, there is a lot more to it because organizations and the people in them are complex. But while those expectations of “how things are done” in a company often go unspoken, they have an impact on almost every decision and every interaction that takes place.

Companies often promote rather predictable sets of values and what we could consider appropriate “rules of engagement”. However, the reality of what initiatives are given mindshare and are supported in the organization can quite differ from what is officially sanctioned.

Innovation is a prime example of that mismatch. Most organizations claim to strive for innovation and feel it is (or should be) an important part of their culture. But few are able to ultimately balance the problem solving and operational needs required to keep the business moving with the diligence and commitment that’s required to really breed innovation.

The Promise of Innovation

Innovation means a lot of different things to different people. It’s often used in the context of what a business delivers to its customers. But internal innovation is equally as important. At its core, internal innovation should challenge the status quo. It should not accept that things continue the way they are simply because that’s how they’ve been before. And the fact is that customer-facing innovation is rarely sustainable without some sort of internal source of innovation steering the company at its core.

But it’s not easy. Our customers often struggle with their personal desire to deliver on their companies’ ask for innovation. After all, people are often driven into an IT career for the potential to find better ways to get things done, more effective approaches to solving problems and new ways to deliver more value with technology.  But in a world of heightened competition, flat budgets and rising security concerns, it’s really difficult to carve out the time and commitment to explore new technology possibilities and find a better way than the way things currently stand. Not to mention the rather hefty load of legacy technology that seems inescapable…and the outlook for innovation in most IT departments seems quite dim.

Calling All Innovators 

Does Your Company Breed Innovation?The good news is that when an organization does make innovation a priority, and truly part of its corporate culture, the results can be quite impressive. When IT is given a chance to step back and challenge “the way we do things,” the benefits can come quickly and are widespread. Some of our most successful customers have teams dedicated to driving that innovation … and it works. They are looking at the existing model of how IT gets people in the organization the right technology at the right time, and they recognize it is disconnected. They are looking at the relationship and interaction that IT teams have with the rest of the company and deciding that it’s just not how they want it to be. They are looking at the needs of the business and what IT is typically tasked with and seeing a gap. And most importantly, they are given the authority and encouragement to initiate the change.

We’ve seen customers introduce really exciting programs. From full-fledged in-person genius bars to (my personal favorite) highly adopted self-service initiatives, many of our customers are working hard to raise the bar for the corporate IT experience they offer. They refuse to accept that it might be sub-par to the consumer experience we all have come to know and love, and are committed to making IT personalized. They are holding themselves accountable the same way customer-facing parts of the business do by tracking their own net promoter scores with their customers – the employees. With programs like this and many others, they are taking the innovation directive that often gets lost in the shuffle and making it real.

Ultimately, these “innovation” programs need to deliver results that the business understands, or it might be easy to fall back into old patterns. Fortunately, the inward focus on the employee technology experience has high impact on things that the business cares about, including:

  • Far fewer disruptions to productivity (In some cases 50,000 fewer interruptions to productivity in a single year)
  • Easier roll outs of major technology improvements that offer cost savings and security benefits, without frustrating employees
  • The ability correlate improved technology experiences internally to higher net promoter scores among customers
  • Establishing a mindset where IT team and the business feel they are working toward a common goal

We know that innovation is a loaded concept. It’s often a perfect storm of people, ideas, technology, time and budget, making it hard to predict when all those forces can come together in a company. But based on what we’ve witness with our customers, under the right conditions and a truly supportive corporate culture, innovative drives high impact results–quickly.