Training employees so that they have the skills needed to innovate is certainly necessary, but it is not sufficient when aiming for company transformation. The rhythms and ways of working for innovation are different from the organizational structures and workflow processes in most large companies. While we may be able to build up the capabilities of our innovation teams, the culture of the organizations within which they work can and often does continue stifle their efforts to innovate and transform. Therefore, most holistic support and training (that includes culture change) must be given to employees to enable valuable company transformation.

When talking about real transformation, one is talking about something that involves significant changes at various levels and as such there can be lot of cultural inertia in large companies and any efforts at transformation can trigger resistance. Digitization, advanced technologies, and other forms of tech-enabled disruption are upending industry after industry, pressuring incumbent companies not only to scratch out stronger financial returns but also to remake who and what they are as organizations.

Doing this is a difficult task but the problem is, it’s no longer enough. Changing what your company is and does—which is an essential part—requires understanding where the value is shifting in your industry and in others. But cultural change can’t be achieved through top-down mandate. It is put forth in the collective attitudes and habits of people and their shared perception of “how things are done around here.” Someone with authority can demand compliance, but they can’t dictate optimism, trust, conviction, or creativity.

Organizations seeking to be more adaptive and innovative, culture change is often the most challenging part of the transformation. Innovation demands new behaviors from leaders and employees that are often antithetical to corporate cultures, which are historically focused on operational excellence and efficiency.

Therefore, the question becomes how (broadly speaking) to create motivation at the various levels involved (individual, team, department, and ultimately at the corporate level). There are many elements and guidelines that one can refer to—each meriting their own article and indeed some of them may be the subject of subsequent articles. However, for this article a synthesized version will be presented.

A movement can (and should) arise when a vision is proposed that provides a positive vision and a path forward that’s within the power of the group in question to achieve. Movements can start small. They begin with a group of passionate enthusiasts who deliver a few modest wins. While these wins are small, they’re powerful in demonstrating efficacy to nonparticipants, and they help the movement gain steam. The movement really gathers force and scale once this group successfully co-opts existing networks and influencers. Eventually, in successful movements, leaders leverage their momentum and influence to institutionalize the change in the formal structures and rules of the group.

An organization cannot be successfully transformed without some clarity as to the reasons why change is necessary. Transformation is a painful process that requires executive level commitment to push it through. As such, it falls on leadership to identify with clarity the reasons for the transformation. It is key to avoid generic statements about wanting to become to a more “innovative company.” Leadership must be clear about the how the world in changing, key trends that are affecting their business and how they plan to use innovation to respond. This thesis will then serve as the true north of the innovation culture transformation.

At the same time, Leaders should not be too quick or simplistic in their translation of social movement dynamics into change management plans. That said, leaders can learn a lot from the practices of skillful movement makers. Successful leaders of movements are often adept at framing situations in terms that raise emotion and drive action. Framing can also apply social pressure to conform. For example, “Secondhand smoking kills. So shame on you for smoking around others.”

In terms of organizational culture change, simply explaining the need for change is insufficient. Creating a sense of urgency helps, but its effects are temporary. To successfully engender people’s full, lasting commitment, they must feel a deep desire, and even responsibility, to change. A leader can do this by framing change within the organization’s purpose — the “WHY we exist” question. A good organizational purpose calls for the pursuit of greatness in service of others. It asks employees to be driven by more than personal gain. It gives meaning to work, conjures individual emotion, and incites collective action.

One such example of successfully launched transformation is Wavestone’s augmented Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. CSR has always been a cornerstone of Wavestone’s culture, and that commitment has only increased since last year.

A clear and achievable vision was set out by upper management based on key topics of increasing interest. Not a mandate but a goal that is relevant and that all employees could get behind. As such this created the motivation and opportunity for those employees willing to take the first steps to do so, such as taking on the roles of CSR Ambassadors. This in turn is what sparked the movement within the company. Locally, at the Luxembourg office, the company saw a rapid increase in the CSR team size.

This experience was noted by incoming candidates during the recruitment process. It transformed Wavestone’s corporate culture and served to inform and inspire many of the employees; augmenting their knowledge and skills and creating opportunities to bring more value internally to the company and externally to other companies.

What seems to work is to begin with discovery because this will help find the early adopters. When early adopters are systematically identified business units and begin to work with them. Consequently, this means getting buy-in from colleagues. This will result in a culture change that sticks. The hard work of reaching out to the most resistant colleagues to find common ground must also be done. When implementing and enforcing on ideas for transforming a company, one must recognize that many people can have inertia when it comes to change for various reasons.

Therefore, while the logic of transformation makes sense, this is a battle for hearts as well as minds. To implement this successfully the personnel involved need to have the right mindset. This is key to achieve the transformation and continued successful execution post. Therefore establishing the foundation for innovation acculturation to occur is an essential first step in achieving all that has been discussed.

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