Building a Culture of Innovation


by Joseph E. Fournier, President & Vice Chairman, Invenias Partners

Forbes annually publishes its roster of the World’s Most Innovative Companies. The 2018 list is more than a roll call of Silicon Valley tech companies, with Alphabet only ranked #75 while ServiceNow ranked #1. Sipping a coffee at Starbucks (#30) and reviewing a few firm profiles, my core belief that innovation is critical for successful organizations was reinforced.  Leaders and their organizations must address ever changing market conditions and consumer preferences at an increasingly faster pace.


Over the years as a Chief HR Officer, other senior leaders would tell me that we had to build a “culture of innovation” in our company.  To me, that meant that leaders, as stewards of their organization’s culture, had to drive innovation through their people.  Their comments were a call to action for all leaders as we needed to inspire, support and establish a mindset focused on innovation.




At this point in our history, “doing our best” and “doing more with less” will not be enough—we will need to do “better with less” every day.  Indeed, to thrive rather than survive in the future, innovation will be the key. Opportunities, barriers and cultures are all created by people.  And thus, innovation is about people.  As Herb Kelleher, former Chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines, quipped, “The business of business is people; yesterday, today and forever.”




Establishing and fostering a culture where innovation thrives sounds simple, but it is not an easy task.  It requires an unwavering commitment from the CEO, every leader and every employee to a few key strategies, principles and behaviors:
  • All Aboard! Simply telling people to think outside the box and to innovate is not enough.  Leaders must be clear about what and where they are headed on the innovation journey.  There are literally hundreds of areas ripe for change – from simple back office processes to major transformation in the way health care is delivered to patients.  When team members are encouraged to think about how to innovate while doing their daily work, the results can be stunning.
  • Chart a Path to Better:Take time to turn the tables on legacy thinking.  Have you heard, “that’s how it’s always been done” and “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”?  Legacy thinking is especially powerful during onboarding of new staff.  Such statements are often a sign of individual and collective complacency.  Every person must believe that there is always room for improvement.  Encourage a look toward the horizon and sunset past practices that impede innovation.
  • Create Safe Space, Blame Free Environments: Innovation means experimenting, trying new things and experiencing failure along the way.  It seems like a relatively simple concept to understand, i.e. a straight road ahead.  Yet when things go wrong at work, people fear the consequences of being blamed, so they avoid bumps and turns that might lead to an unfamiliar destination.  People must know (and feel) that innovation is encouraged and is rewarded for moving forward.  Teams must recognize that failure or getting lost along the way is an opportunity to learn—and often an opportunity to celebrate.
  • Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk. Leaders and employees must model positive and innovative behavior for each other.  Sometimes it’s hard to celebrate or learn from a tough failure.  Make no mistake; everyone is watching to see how leaders react to both success and failure.  And for a culture of innovation to take hold, leaders need to do more than just speak to innovation.  Effective leaders openly support travel along what is likely to be an unfamiliar road as they give people the time, resources and freedom to innovate while celebrating the learning that comes from success and sometimes failure.


What actions are you and your leadership team taking to improve the IQ – innovation quotient – of your organization?  Does your culture match your desire for innovation?


Please note: This article contains the sole views and opinions of Joseph E. Fournier and does not reflect the views or opinions of Guidepoint Global, LLC (“Guidepoint”). Guidepoint is not a registered investment adviser and cannot transact business as an investment adviser or give investment advice. The information provided in this article is not intended to constitute investment advice, nor is it intended as an offer or solicitation of an offer or a recommendation to buy, hold or sell any security. Any use of this article without the express written consent of Guidepoint and Joseph E. Fournier is prohibited.


Learn how Guidepoint can help with your research needs