Industry disruption and technological change are present-day reality.
Digital information networks have made the world more connected than ever before. Opportunities to grow and cross-fertilize innovative ideas across the organization are becoming more plausible.
These changes are bringing about a renaissance of sorts in a department that has somehow continued to retain its traditional format – the R&D department.
However, companies that are successful in pushing the R&D teams out of their traditional avatars have turned this department into a major powerhouse for business. Think about industry leaders like Amazon, Google, Apple. All of these companies have created a strong innovation culture that has permeated to their R&D teams.
So, what can organizations do to create an innovation culture and grow strong R&D teams?
What is an innovation culture?
An innovation culture, simplistically, creates a climate that is conducive to innovation.
In such an environment, employees are growth-oriented, keen to take on challenges, and eager to come up with new ideas for value creation. They can do so because the organization is supportive of new ideas and idea generation.
Organizations with an innovation culture also encourage and reward discovery.
Innovation culture and the R&D team
The pressure on organizations to build and deliver world-class products is only increasing. This trend is not going to change. To stay ahead of the curve, organizations have to boost the innovation culture in their R&D teams to make it stronger.
How can they achieve this?
Deliver world-class innovation
An innovation culture demands a high level of accountability from all those working in this segment. Everyone is expected to be hyper-focused on delivering the best product, services, platforms out into the market. These people not only have to be focused inwards to explore innovation opportunities but outwards as well to make sure that they out-innovate competition.
But this culture begins with a philosophy that is almost analogous to parenting. Parenting demands that you give a child both roots and wings. Thus, at an organizational level, it is essential to ground creative and innovative minds in accountability towards organizational goals, focus areas, capabilities, and commitments.
- Identifying the barriers to innovation and helping the R&D team members see where their work fits in and where it could go.
- Helping them seek out and enabling opportunities to interact with people who can help them grow and excel in areas where they might need help.
- Reinventing the concept of productivity. Instead of relying on traditional productivity metrics such as on-time delivery, productivity has to be linked with time spent on research and discovery and value generation.
- Reinventing and fine-tuning business processes so that these don’t become impediments and barriers to innovation.
Focus on building a strong culture
Innovation culture is rooted deeply in the growth mindset.
Growth mindset is a belief that intelligence can be fostered, abilities can be developed, and that mistakes are not signs of failures but opportunities for improvement.
To develop an innovation culture in the R&D teams, organizations have to create systems that support employees to grow their skills and abilities. These systems have to help employees remain on the path of continuous learning and continuous improvement to become change agile and recognize their own value and potential.
These processes have to generate energy within employees to improve and excel. They also have to have the right measurement metrics to help employees understand their barriers of excellence and success and then provide the right tools to scale this chasm.
A strong innovation culture also lies deeply rooted in being customer-obsessed. Developing the ability to think ahead and to think from the customer’s point of view involves an amalgamation of scientific and creative skills. Skills like empathy, observation, critical, and strategic have to be cultivated so that the R & D teams can create products that customers love.
Additionally, to create a strong culture, organizations also have to focus on creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive technical excellence. This involves not only improving the technical dexterity of the employees, but also honing their problem-solving skills, adaptability levels, creative thinking capabilities, and curiosity. It also involves developing the capability to apply continuous learning to technical challenges to come up with creative and innovative solutions.
Grow a strong team
Driving innovation culture demands developing strong teams…teams that are focused and motivated to excel in their job roles and eager to push the envelope a little bit further each time.
The first step towards this involves providing clarity in roles and responsibilities, expectations, and outcomes. When employees are acutely aware of what is expected of them, it becomes easier to map the steps needed to achieve these goals.
Managers play a critical role in helping team members gain clarity regarding their roles and responsibilities. They are instrumental in pushing team members to raise the bar through positive reinforcements. They are critical in raising the employee engagement and employee experience bar to have team members who willingly put in discretionary efforts. All of these initiatives rely heavily on power skills. Working on these aspects helps in generating energy within the team members where they become self-motivated and innovation inclined.
When implemented, all these efforts help in creating an innovation culture that helps in growing strong R&D teams.
While organizations will need to look at the technical dexterity of their workforce, they have to focus more on developing the power skills of their employees. This is simply because being innovative, is a Power Skill.
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