Innovation and Engagement: It's All About Culture

Much of the focus on innovation is about who should be involved and what the process should look like, but another important factor is organizational culture.

By Larry Bonfante

Innovation has become one of the hottest buzzwords in industry. We all recognize the need to find new and creative solutions to challenges as well as creating new offerings to compete in our markets. Much of the focus on innovation is about who should be involved and what the process should look like. While these are important variables, I feel the most important factor is organizational culture.

Many companies that espouse the need for innovation wrongly function under what I refer to as a “culture of blame.” In a difficult economic environment, missteps can be costly. Many employees are afraid of making mistakes for fear of retribution. However, innovation by its nature requires risk taking. You have to try things that haven’t been tried before. The risk for “failure” is high. However, it all depends on how you define failure. Learning from a new approach and being able to leverage these lessons to fine-tune the next iteration is not failure, it’s education! Having the audacity to think outside the proverbial box even if the first effort didn’t hit the mark creates an environment of creativity. Very few inventors get it “right” the first time. You need the time, space and freedom to tinker, modify and improve your approach.

Another major challenge in corporate life today is employees who are not fully engaged. We’ve all seen people who check their souls at the door before they reach work! The key to engagement is not to brainwash people into doing what you want them to do. Rather, it’s finding people’s natural talents and interests and finding ways to allow them to flex those muscles. I also find it painful to watch people who are square pegs being forced to fit into round holes. Engagement is about understanding what makes individuals tick and giving them opportunities to express themselves in the workplace. If you have employees who are naturally good communicators, put them into customer-facing roles. If you have staff members who are brilliant technologists, empower them to architect new solutions. A fully engaged workforce looks forward to coming to work because they get to do things they enjoy doing and are competent at.

If your team isn’t innovating or engaged, maybe it’s not the people. Maybe it’s the culture they’re working in!

Larry Bonfante is CIO of the United States Tennis Association and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@

This article was originally published on 11-20-2012
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.

Click for a full list of Newsletterssubmit