By Bridget McCrea

For companies that have been in business for decades – and that assume they've found the right formula for success and choose to stick with it – change can be a pretty upending experience. After all, basic physics tells us that it's always easier to keep an object in motion than to stop it, shut down its movement, and then get it moving in another direction. Plus, as the author of Who Moved My Cheese? covered in his best-selling book, "change is an issue that makes all of us nervous and uncomfortable."

An Innovative Culture
According to Faisal Hoque, a serial entrepreneur and founder of SHADOKA, change can be a good thing in the organizational context, where some of the best corporate cultures begin with the attitude of accepting that the world itself has already changed. Hoque, whose books include Everything Connects – How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability and Survive to Thrive – 27 Practices of Resilient Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Leaders, says distributors that ignore the fact that the worlds around them are changing miss out on the basic fundamental elements that drive cultural innovation.

"Culture is all about mindset," Hoque explains. "It's also about experimentation and not being afraid to fail. This lack of fear translates into an overall resiliency and an accurate picture of how your company interacts with its employees, its leaders, its business partners, and – perhaps most importantly – its customers."

Resistant to Change
As the author of Who Moved my Cheese? discovered, people don't generally like change. Given the choice, most would prefer to stick to predictable routines rather than follow that "do one thing every day that makes you uncomfortable" mantra that we hear so often but rarely adhere to. According to Hoque, that's because people are very comfortable where they are ("most of us are," he says) and would prefer to hang out with the same group of friends, frequent the same restaurants, and listen to the same kind of music. "We get pretty comfortable," says Hoque. "That's a very fundamental, psychological reason why people don't like to change."

The good news is that there a lot of creative types out there that enjoy innovation and change. They have the desire and an appetite to experience new things. "That's where the creative and innovative juices start to flow," says Hoque. "Experiencing new things allows you to go beyond your comfort zone, which has to happen if you want to innovate."

At a corporate level, organizations that have been in business for decades can easily fall into those kinds of ruts. And when their leaders and managers are equally as resistant to change, corporate cultures can quickly fall short and become ineffective. "The key is to break down those fears and encourage employees to break out of their comfort zones, experiment, and experience new things," says Hoque. "That's the job of a leader." For example, he says that in a company where culture revolves around innovation, employees should be encouraged to present new ideas – not squelched. The individual who presents a new logo to support a larger brand identity initiative, for example, should be applauded for his or her work, not told that "our existing logo does its job just fine."

Good Leadership Counts
According to Hoque, company leaders can make or break a solid corporate culture. Because of this, there needs to be high-level training that's focused on inspiration, influence, and profitability – all of which come together to form a strong culture. "Pull together a system that allows your people to take their ideas and convert them into some type of commercial success," says Hoque, who adds that employees need to know that their firm's underlying culture is here to stay, even though the philosophy behind it may be focused on continuous change and innovation.

"Make sure someone is championing the culture at all times and making it part of your firm's overall mission and vision," says Hoque, who compares corporate culture to a dress code. Are you going to run the company that requires employees to wear suits every day? Or are you going to take a more relaxed approach and institute casual Fridays and other more lenient dress codes? "Those are the standards that you are setting up and everyone needs to champion those standards," says Hoque.

"Your culture has to become a part of your ritualistic behavior," says Hoque, "versus just testing out initiatives and then moving along to the next one." In return, Hoque says companies will get workforces that not only buy into their own corporate cultures, but that also extend those cultures out to the customer on a regular and predictable basis. This is a particularly important point in the commodity-oriented industrial distribution industry, where differentiation and "standing out" can pose major challenges.

Measuring Your Success
As we pointed out early in this article, stagnation is not an option for the distributor that wants to move ahead in today's competitive marketplace. To make the most out of their corporate cultures, companies should regularly measure and assess their cultural goals and adjust them accordingly. "There's no substitute for measurement and matrix," says Hoque, who tells electrical distributors to keep monthly tabs on their progress in this area.

"Measure whether any of your strategies are working or not. If you skip this step, then you're not going to know whether you're succeeding or not," says Hoque. "These days, yearly measurements just don't cut it either. You should be looking at these metrics on a quarterly basis, deciding what's working and what's not, and making the changes needed to shore up your corporate culture."
 

8 Tips for Establishing an Innovative Culture

In Everything Connects: How To Transform And Lead In The Age Of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability, Faisal Hoque gives these tips to leaders that want to establish an innovative corporate culture:

  1. Listen broadly for ideas through external networks. Listen to the customer. Listen to the front lines in your organization.

  2. Understand who your actual and potential customers are, what they want and need, what they will need, and why those needs have not yet been met.

  3. Organize the innovation team to include those with a stake in the innovation, organize the innovation program, and organize the resources and investments needed to address the problem.

  4. Create an environment and capability for innovation by giving the team the ability to fail. Create many alternative solutions by leveraging the cascaded innovation lifecycle.

  5. Experiment and learn from failure. Conduct many experiments in parallel. Use prototyping and other iterative, feedback-driven techniques.

  6. Listen again to the customer to help them imagine. Use prototypes to elicit feedback. Listen to customer acceptance and buying criteria. Listen to what could go wrong, but don't let the devil's advocate take control.

  7. Design the concepts to address customer-centric values like cost, intuitive use, ease of change, and sense of enhancement.

  8. Implement the final go/no-go decision. Consolidate or eliminate competing alternatives to a manageable number. Send concepts back for reinvention, retesting, or redesign. Implement the second stage of the innovation lifecycle: manifestation.

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McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.