Get everyone thinking
Everyone in an organisation should own the responsibility for pursuing innovation and coming up with innovative ideas. It’s then up to the leadership team to decide which of those ideas should be chucked and which are worth pursuing. The CFO needs to make sure that the right resources – whether investment, people or products – are going to the right places.
The answer? Culture (again)
This means culture is the most important success factor for an organisation. If you’re trying make your company more innovative, this is where it needs to start: find people who are naturally curious and want to experiment, and then give them a framework in which they can do just that.
Prime example is Google’s famous 20% policy: employees spend 80% of their time doing their day job, with 20% dedicated to their own side projects to encourage innovation. Purportedly Google News, Gmail and AdSense all originated in ‘20% time.’
Finding the right fit
Clearly, not every company should have the same culture, otherwise it would be a very narrow – and boring – workforce. Needless to say, this is easier in an early-stage business, but driving culture in a larger-stage organisation means structure.
When your organisation is at an earlier stage and your culture is still evolving, as Deliveroo was when I was a part of it, it’s natural to rely more on individual leaders to drive culture. It takes a dedicated, long-term strategy to take this organisation-wide.
Consistent messaging (consistent messaging, consistent messaging)
Once you’ve established innovation as a cornerstone of your culture, you need to make sure the whole organisation understands this at every stage. You’re attempting the tricky task of teaching people not just how to do, but how to behave.
This means consistency of language: whether that’s how you run the company meeting, how you promote or how you hire people; it needs to be constantly reinforced that this is the way we behave in this organisation.
Space to breathe
If people are dealing with a huge volume of work, they don’t have the headspace to think creatively. Freeing up time might seem particularly hard when you’re growing exponentially and it’s all hands on deck, but you’ve got to try and clear the deck somewhat.
This means space to get things wrong as well as space to think – nothing kills innovation like a blame culture. Once you start pointing the finger, it’s dead, because people stop taking risks.
A lot of organisations put too much priority on hierarchy, which means people don’t feel comfortable speaking their mind to those more senior. This is a crying shame – if someone is driving you towards a cliff, you don’t stay quiet because you’re not in the driver’s seat. You’re hiring smart people, and one of the key value-adds they bring is their honest opinion.
Amazon has an honest and direct culture, which is great, but this has only happened through taking the time to build one, particularly through rewarding that behaviour rather than penalising it.