Creating a Culture of Innovation

By Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW

Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW

In this era of complexity and uncertainty, we all desire a workplace environment that encourages the adoption of new technologies, fuels our passion for knowledge, and diminishes barriers to our creativity. A culture of innovation is an environment that supports creative thinking and promotes acquiring social value from knowledge to generate new or improved services or methods.

Innovation can help organizations remain competitive, stay relevant, and develop services that benefit clients. Innovative cultures start with a philosophy and a tone grounded in the organization's objectives, key focus areas, core capabilities, and customer commitments.

A robust culture of innovation also has a shared set of values and mutually reinforcing beliefs about an integrated pattern of behavior that supports creativity. It should be a high priority for every leader. Given that employees are doing the day-to-day work that keeps the organization running, they are better positioned to suggest changes than are the leaders, who often are dealing with more administrative matters. In innovative cultures, employees are encouraged to analyze their work processes and make suggestions for improvements that advance organizational goals and achieve better client outcomes.

Innovative leaders employ dialogue as a way of thinking and reflecting with employees. They understand that ideas flow when people are curious, inquiring and openly express their ideas. They encourage, cultivate and model collaborative thinking.

The best way for leaders to inspire people to produce innovative ideas is to take time to actively listen to them. Giving people space to develop their ideas creates a respectful environment, where people feel comfortable expressing themselves. Leaders can also reinforce the cultural benefits of innovation by dedicating time for creativity.

Typically, innovation happens at the incremental level. And when done deliberately, it drives organizations forward one project, change and idea at a time. It occurs across all levels and all functions in an organization. Some would say that in a highly competitive environment, employing innovation is your best strategy to survive and thrive.

Contact Angelo McClain at naswceo@socialworkers.org.