Note from Editors:
It is easy to make an innovative corporate #culture from scratch, difficult to do with existing firms, but can be done. The author says, “For innovation to happen by design not by exception, companies need to hack their corporate culture. This is akin to waging psychological warfare on your own company. It needs to be a careful, calculated process coordinated with HR and Finance.” Read on to learn how to do it.
by Steve Blank
I’ve spent this year working with corporations and government agencies that are adopting and adapting Lean Methodologies. I’ve summarized my learnings in this blog post, and here, here and here and here and put it together in the presentation here.
One of the interesting innovation challenges I’ve encountered centers on a company’s culture. While #startups have the luxury of building values and culture from scratch, existing companies that want to (re)start corporate innovation must reboot an existing -and at times deeply rooted- corporate culture. It’s not an easy task, but failing to change the culture will doom any innovation efforts the company attempts.
Corporate Innovation Requires an Innovation Culture
Innovation in an existing company is not just the sum of great technology, key acquisitions, or smart people. Corporate innovation needs a culture that matches and supports it. Often this means a change to the existing company’s culture. Persuading employees to let go of old values and beliefs, and adopt new ones can be challenging.
All too often a corporate innovation initiative starts and ends with a board meeting mandate to the CEO followed by a series of memos to the staff, with lots of posters, and one-day workshops. This typically creates “innovation theater” but very little innovation.
Two McKinsey consultants, Terry Deal and Arthur Kennedy wrote a book called Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life. In it they pointed that every company has a culture – and that culture was shorthand for “the way we do things at our company.” Company culture has four essential ingredients:
- Values/beliefs – set the philosophy for everything a company does, essentially what it stands for
- Stories/myths – stories are about how founders/employees get over obstacles, win new orders…
- Heroes – what gets rewarded and celebrated, how do you become a hero in the organization?
- Rituals – what and how does a company celebrate?
The Power of a Corporate Culture
It was in my third startup, Convergent Technologies, that I started to understand the power of a corporate culture. The values and basic beliefs of working in this crazy startup were embodied in the phrase that we were, “The Marine Corps of Silicon Valley.” If the notion of joining the Marine Corps of tech wasn’t something that interested you, you didn’t apply. If it was appealing (typically to high testosterone 20 year-olds), you fought to get in.
By the time I joined, the company already had a store of “beating the impossible odds” and “innovation on your feet” stories. It was already lore that the founders had pivoted from simply building an entire computer that fit on a single-circuit board with a newfangled Intel microprocessor to selling complete desktop workstations with an operating system and office applications (the precursor to the PC) to other computer companies. And the CEO had done the pivot in front of a whiteboard of a customer who went from a “we’re not interested” to a $45million order in the same meeting.
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Note: Featured Image credit to pixabay.com