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How to build an innovation culture

Anthony JenkinsIn February 2013, Barclays Bank made bold statements about changing its culture. CEO Antony Jenkins pledged to waive his bonus, Rich Ricci, Bob Diamond’s right hand man through the Libor scandal, faced an uncertain future, and HR ambassadors were rolling out shiny new corporate values of Integrity, Respect and Stewardship. Skip forward just eight weeks and Jenkins accepts a £5.3m bonus while Ricci nets over £17m. Will those values really change the culture now?

Culture isn’t created by HR ambassadors. It’s created by the visible actions of the leaders: not what they say, but what they do. And above all, through the personalities they hire, the behaviours they reward, the exemplars they promote and the renegades they fire. It’s a lesson for anyone who wants to drive rapid growth in their business. Why? Because rapid growth needs an innovative, supportive, progressive culture; one that requires visible, consistent and relentless action from you, the leadership, to create and sustain, through:

Passion: Creating a pipeline of great, innovative growth ideas isn’t a one-off action, it’s an ongoing commitment, and you can only inspire your people to keep doing it if you show a deep and continued passion to ask, talk, and enthuse about the innovations that they’re working on.

Freedom: Google famously allows its engineers to spend 20% of their time working on anything they want and around 50% of its most successful innovations have sprung from that “20% time”. How much of their time do your star players get to spend creating and developing the new ideas about which they, personally, are passionate?

Heroism: When Richard Baker wanted to create a customer service culture at Boots, he spoke about a store visit with Alex Gourlay (then Stores Director) “Alex noticed a queue at the checkout, apologised to me, broke off our conversation and jumped on the till to clear the queue”. I don’t know if the story was true, but I do know it worked. Which heroes in your business exemplify the passion, purpose and commitment that you want people to emulate? Can you tell their story?

BOTTOM LINE: Follow all six previous steps and you’ll get a rush of exciting projects and a burst of growth. But sustaining that new trajectory needs one more ingredient: YOU. Cultivate and relentlessly share your passion for innovation, give your stars the freedom to shine, and find and reward your heroes as exemplars of a new culture. Not only will your business grow, it will be a fantastic place to work.

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