How big companies can stay competitive regarding agile and disruptive new players ? As a master student specialized in Management of Innovation I have developed a deep interest on how big corporations transform their organizational culture to stay competitive in a world where new technologies and startups disrupt their industry.
Innovation Lab, Fab Lab, Hackerspace, Incubators… big companies are creating spaces to foster innovation and develop new strategic projects with the ambition to create THE new innovation everyone will crave for. There is no denying that being innovative is at all corporations agendas. However, how these initiatives would really work – and sustain ? How and where to start ? The answer is a shift of the organization culture by building an Innovative Culture.
This article aims to give the main strategies I have identified by analyzing the best-in class Innovative Cultures. The Accor group will be taken as an example.
Accor is a world-leading augmented hospitality group with 4,800 hotels, resorts and residences across 100 different countries. It has been providing expertise and know-how in the hospitality sector for more than 50 years. Who would imagine just few years ago that the hotel industry would be disrupted by a private rental – digital based – and asset-free company ? Nobody, but that’s the history of Airbnb.
Airbnb do not only upset the market, it has revolutionized the way people choose their accommodations when travelling and consume it. In order to prevent the new players attacks, remain competitive and disrupt itself the industry, Sébastien Bazin, Accor’s CEO needed to adjust the organizational culture. That is why Accor built and continue to nourish an Innovative Culture.
Transform the culture of a company is a tough challenge.
Resistance to change is the ultimate challenge change leaders face when seeking to transform the company culture. It imply to establish a clear:
- vision – the “WHY” of your innovative culture
- communication about the “WHAT” triggered and supported by the top management
- organisation about the roles and contribution of every employee in this cultural change – the “WHO”
- roadmap – to achieve the goal, what we call the “HOW”.
Although there’s no single right way to build a culture of innovation, I tried to covered 5 strategies and tips that worked across industries.
#0 Ensure the top management support
The shift of a traditional culture to an innovative one have to be triggered and supported by the top management as it is drive by a strategic need.
« Break the codes, banish habits, be surprising, authentics, unexpected, brought a breath of fresh air at Accor». Sébastien Bazin, Accor’s CEO.
#1 Open the minds to foster ideation & understand the needs of the market
If you tell people to innovate, there is a big chance that they’ll reply they need to locked themselves in a room with 1000 post-it and “brainstorm”. They would be wrong. The truth is that to foster a culture of innovation, you need first to OPEN the minds of your employees to the world.
The first step should be to organize Learning Expeditions (LEX). Lasting from 1 to 5 days in average, the participants are immersed into an ecosystem abroad (often in the Silicon Valley or in Asia, or in their own city) with a deep focus on tech and innovation culture. These “enterprise safaris” allow to engage your teams and inspire them while discovering tech ecosystems and innovation players such as startups, experts, but also big pioneer corporations like GAFAM. The program is intense with visits, pitch, conferences, team building and workshops to open the minds.
Inspiration is only the first step, in order to build a sustain Innovation Culture, give the opportunity to your collaborators to be trained. Adopting an innovative and critical thinking is not natural and easy for everyone. It is a mindset that need to be triggered, developed and continuously nourished. Design Thinking and Lean Startup are the two main methodologies that every employee need to be acculturated in order to become more agile and user centered when developing new projects. To know more, consult NUMA. trainings and methodology of learning by doing.
As part of the Open Innovation strategy: work with partners, that could be other corporations, startups, incubators but also schools and research centers. Accor is interacting with thousands of startups to enrich its augmented hospitality strategy. The different business units also work with universities and schools; particularly to engage them in ideation challenges to build the future of hospitality. The Open House concept Jo&Joe, defined as the best of the 3 worlds: economic hospitality, youth hostel and private rental for millenials, has been co-conceptualized with students from the Webschool Factory.
#2 Dedicate Time & Resources for Innovation
That’s often where companies fall short. You can invest in innovation programs to bring in new ideas, but if you don’t give individuals the time and (financial) resources they will not be able to show why their ideas create value and are worthwhile.
Like Google, Accor allowed its collaborators to benefit of an Innovation Time. Indeed, thanks to Innovation Programs like Boost Your Potential or the Intrapreneurship Program the collaborators have the possibility to dedicate from 20 to 50% of their time to innovation projects that create value for the group.
In terms of financial resources, Google was also a pioneer with its 70/20/10 rule: 70% of investments for Innovation purposes are dedicated to incremental innovations in order to improve existing products ; 20% for new projects and 10% for disruptive innovation or “total moonshot” projects for which it is authorized to loose money in a short time lapse. Even if every company will not adopt this rule, the idea behind is the importance to dedicate a fund for Innovation.
#3 Scale it up: give the opportunity to every employee to innovate
The goal is to build “a company culture where every employee can be an innovation powerhouse.” Micah Solomon, Company Culture consultant specialized on culture change.
At Accor, every collaborator can form a team and pitch an innovative project to be part of the Intrapreneurship Program. 🚀
#4 Encourage failures & create a safe space for experimentation
Accept failures, the ability to fail leads to innovation !
For example, the adhesive Post It notes was created by accident, today they sell 50 billions post-it notes every year.
In reality it is not failure itself that lead to success, but the ability to deal it. Every failure is a learning and if you accept it, you will never do it again. The trick is to understand why it failed and then restart again with this added knowledge.
Beyond failure acceptance, it is a safe space for experimentation that you need to support. The motto for Innovative Cultures could be “Keep challenging yourself.”
Last but not least: #5 Congratulate Innovation Leaders
Congratulate Innovation initiatives transmit a strong message to your employees and will encourage them to be part of the Innovation Leaders of the company.
They will be proud to be considered so and it directly contribute to employee retention. Organizing Awards is also a fabulous way to communicate and contribute to build and nourish the Innovative Culture you want to show to the world: medias, customers, but also partners as investors and individuals to attract new talents.
Since 2005 Decathlon organize the Innovation Awards . Customers are invited to vote for their 3 best innovations, that will then be commercialized.
👉If you want to know more about How to build an Innovation Culture within your company, I recommend you to read Building a culture of innovation by Cris Beswick, Derek Bishop, and Jo Geraghty that present a six-steps Innovation Culture Change practical framework to help you placing Innovation at the core of your business and culture.
👐Feel free to share this publication and comment it below. You can also send me a (kindly) 📩 at : email@example.com .
Henry Chesbrough, 2003. Open Innovation, The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology.
Cris Beswick, Derek Bishop, and Jo Geraghty, 2015. Building a Culture of Innovation: A Practical Framework for Placing Innovation at the Core of Your Business.
Edward D. Hess, Batten Institute University of Virginia Darden School of Business, 2014. Forbes. Why Is Innovation So Hard ? Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/darden/2014/08/04/why-is-innovation-so-hard/#532e81cb46fd :
Thomas Lestavel, 2019. Le Figaro. L’Innovation Permanente, Une Culture A Développer Dans Les Entreprises. Available at: http://www.lefigaro.fr/societes/2019/03/21/20005-20190321ARTFIG00001-l-innovation-permanente-une-culture-a-developper-dans-les-grandes-entreprises.php
Micah Solomon, 2018. Forbes . How To Build A Culture Of Innovation And Turn Every Employee Into An Innovation Powerhouse. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/micahsolomon/2018/04/28/how-to-build-a-culture-of-innovation-and-turn-every-employee-into-an-innovation-powerhouse/#692462b44728
Karen Higginbottom, 2017. Forbes. Why The Ability To Fail Leads to Innovation. Available at:https://www.forbes.com/sites/karenhigginbottom/2017/08/03/why-the-ability-to-fail-leads-to-innovation/#3d56a56d36f6
Gary P. Pisano, 2019. Harvard Business Review. The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures. Available at: https://hbr.org/2019/01/the-hard-truth-about-innovative-cultures
Harvard Business Review on Youtube, Interview of David Kester, 2009. Creating a culture of innovation. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyqHGdIMcas