Regardless of industry, organizations are still struggling with the lack of return on their innovation investments.

Many of these organizations have well thought out formalized visions, missions, goals and objectives. Sometimes they may have also even already deployed innovation processes and metrics as well. However the innovation that they eventually bring to market is often incremental, and geared toward delivering faster, better and cheaper benefits.

Looking at these organizations more closely, several things are seen as disabling their ability to deliver true innovation to the market. These include a status quo culture, a vague sense of purpose for the organization, and leader behaviors including, but not limited to, aversion to risk.

Over the next few weeks, I will talk about each of these aspects of innovation and how they can enable or stifle much needed growth.

The focus this week will be on culture. The most innovative leaders and companies are learning to shape the intangible force of culture to drive competitive advantage. It’s not about just talking about being innovative, taking risks and embracing failure. It is all about influencing the intangible aspects of the business, such as behaviors like commitment to stay the course, passion for employees and end users, and trust.

These are major factors that enable tangible growth and create success. Consider these intangibles and nurtured them so that they can be sustained long-term.

Leaders today should promote a culture where innovators are regularly recognized for their contributions and one where innovators also recognize others’ contributions. This helps to encourage the collaboration that is necessary to deliver successful innovations.

Recognition comes in many forms — financial rewards, annual awards, public accolades — to name just a few. While formal rewards signal management’s support for desired behaviors, the most powerful type of recognition — the type that underpins a true culture of innovation — is delivered informally through everyday interactions.

Recognition of contributions promotes a spirit of team effort, and the free flow of ideas. There is little downside to leveraging this type of recognition in your organizations today.

Many leaders forget or don’t consider that their passing comments, facial expressions and reactions have a huge impact on what’s perceived as good or bad, and what is valued, and what is worth inviting time, talent and treasure to pursue.

Symbols representing the underlying values of leadership and the organization come in many forms — unconscious behavior, formal value statements, awards, success stories, posters in the hallways, tag lines. It is important to remember that those who create and deliver the symbols of their company are forming the framework of their culture.

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