Motivate to Innovate: 10 strategies for implementing an innovative work culture


Innovation. You have decided that it’s the right way to go. Something new needs to happen. Let’s also make our team more innovative, and install new work practices. Disrupt or get Kodak’ed!

There is often just a slight problem: Not everybody in your team, organization or circle of influence might be convinced, or let alone even wants to change. And this could be on all sides: stakeholders, bosses, co-workers, and employees can actively push back or at least be highly sceptical:

This can have a multitude of reasons, however, one question remains for you: What do you do now?

This is especially relevant if you’re not responsible for an innovation project or team but rather for a part of the organization where the culture needs to get transformed to be more innovative.

This is a very practical question that separates practicioners, academics and business thinkers.

A spectrum of approaches

I have observed a spectrum of advice and approaches when it comes to driving innovation and innovative work practices:

  • On one extreme, there are statements like: “Innovate or get fired, who is not up for the new world needs to leave.”
  • On the other extreme, there are beliefs like, “Leave people alone and innovation will happen automatically”, one that one sees often in the camp of self-organization.

You can easily see that your approach to bringing innovation and an innovation culture to life and motivate people drastically changes depending on which view you have.

I believe the truth is in between the two. We can’t enforce innovation and change, but depending on where you work you will also encounter a multitude of individuals and characters, not all always fully engaged and motivated to be open for trying out new things.

However, you still want to move forward for your own circle of influence. Here are some practical strategies that will help you in the implementation of a more innovative work culture.

10 implementation strategies to get your team going on innovation:

1) First pace, then lead: Don’t start with the big, massive changes. Don’t try to be like Google in 6 weeks. Rather, start with small, actionable, easy-to-implement things. An effective change to a meeting routine is always a good way to start.

2) Encourage self-sourced ideas: Don’t impose everything on the team/organization. Identify actionable things with the group together that can be implemented and achieved. Crowdsource these ideas, for instance via a highly-interactive workshop. Then led the people with passion for it lead it and give them all support necessary, in order to lead the way.

3) Show “certain” and immediate value: Start with something that is a “surefire thing”. Something you know from experience that for a vast majority of people it does work, and from which you know that they have not yet tried/ implemented it. When they try it out they will see that a different approach makes a lot of sense. For example, in my trainings and strategy workshops I regularly let people do a technique called “rapid storyboarding”. In just a couple of minutes people have to write down their “story” in little boxes, and then rapidly deliver the story in a concise way. Almost nobody believes it before, but after 15 minutes they see immediate results.

4) Show examples of real success: Find the pockets of excellence in the organization. See if there are people who are already living innovation, who have tried something new. Especially in larger organisations I am often surprised how many different ways of doing exist. Become your own chief curator of success examples and explore those with your team and other stakeholders.

5) Provide practical strategies: Often the ideas stay on the fluff level: “Let’s be innovative.” However, the key task is to share and implement one strategy that truly works, and that people can directly try out and implement. For instance, don’t just share “Let’s create new ways of working” but rather: “One thing, let’s use the highlighter functionality when we have global meetings. By this we can all contribute and input at the same time, changing our actual approach”. Practical strategies are sometimes seen as something evident or easy, but they are the true implementation builders in my experience.

6) Have an outside push: This works especially well if you work with leaders or peers who don’t see the need for change. For instance, sometimes it can be great to get suppliers or customers in the room and see how they work. One law firm for instance brought in customers for a shared hackathon activity. Seeing the real life applications convinced especially the sceptical internal stakeholders that innovation was necessary.

7) Focus on “Aspirins”: In startup product language, there exists the metaphor of “Aspirins vs vitamins”. Aspirins remove pain whereas the vitamins improve health in the long run. Especially in the beginning of innovation implementation, “Aspirin” works. For instance, if there is a report that you have received a lot of complaints on, focus on removing/improving this via innovative ways/methods. This convinces the sceptics.

8) Create frameworks: It’s important that you work on the framework, rather then the individual. You don’t try to motivate just one person (which usually does not work in any case) but you much rather drive the system to implement. A system of innovation can be measured that you say for instance “we try to improve by 1% every week” or “We implement one new thing per months”. And then follow through. By focussing on a framework with a set of strategies like this you can de-couple the efforts from pushing individuals.

9) Reward it: Author Patricia Fripp once said: “It’s not what you say or believe that is important, but what you reward or just let happen”. What do you let happen? What do you personally reward, not only by money but also by attention and focus time? Maybe you can tie promotions, awards and praise towards trying out things and innovation.

10) Walk the talk and live it yourself: Let’s assume you want to drive new ways of interaction within your team, let’s say using engaging ways of meeting virtually. But then your attitude is: “Oh, by the way, this is only for you guys, I still prefer the old way, so whenever we meet it’s different”. We can immediately see how nobody will adopt any new strategy with this approach. However, if people see that YOU live it, you try out new things, they might be much more motivated and engaged to do it themselves.

Will these strategies guarantee that you get your whole team to become super-innovative in a week? Of course not. These are the beginning of a journey, and in human interaction there are no quick fixes. However, by focussing on the above, and constantly working on creating an innovative culture you can lay the groundwork of innovation success.

Which strategies have worked for you? I am curious to hear from you.


Lars Sudmann is an expert on high-performance leadership in global corporations. You can contact Lars to work with you as keynote speaker at your next event or strategy advisor for management teams. Search the “resources” area for TEDx talks, articles and more.


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