The Innovation Advantage: People and Culture Matter to Technology’s Success

A Q&A on the important relationships between innovation, technology, and the healthy workplace.

In a world where Millennials and Gen Z expect more from their working lives than a footnote of credit in the history books, we must cultivate our teams and organizations to be truly inclusive, authentically nurturing … and yet fertile ground for creative leaps. 

When we get the model for a healthy and progressive workplace right — when we build a best-case workplace culture — the results speak for themselves. Studies reveal that a harmonious company culture and an enthusiastic workforce drive innovation and productivity. According to Gallup research, companies with engaged workers report a 22% increase in profits. Meanwhile, a report in the Gallup Management Journal says 59% of engaged employees believe their job makes them more creative. Satisfied workers are also more loyal to the company, more motivated to stay. Bottom line, a healthy company culture lifts revenue and prevents brain drain. For technology companies, this is critical.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, however. With approaches as varied as the makeup of every department in every organization, the key to successful company culture is to build on the basic concepts and implementations that foster organic cultural health. I recently sat down to chat with Karen Smith, Vice President of People & Culture at Verve. We talked about the important relationships between innovation, technology, and the healthy workplace — and we identified some of the key moves that prompt a positive culture, companywide, to grow.

JULIE BERNARD: What’s the first step for a company to achieve an innovative workplace? 

KAREN SMITH: You need to start by talking to your company founders and C-level executives. From them you’ll get insights into the cultural ideas that have fueled the business’s growth. Knowing your company culture, after analyzing its history and ongoing expectations, you can continue to foster an innovative culture for your company by asking questions of incoming candidates. 

JB: What are some potential questions to ask candidates? 

KS: The questions can be things like, “How would you describe the culture of your previous workplace,” “How well do you believe you fit in at your previous workplace,” “What’s important to you about an ideal work culture?” If the answers you get from candidates align with your culture’s goals, the chances of them settling into a positive space and furthering your company’s success will soar. 

JB: How do you keep company culture at the core?

No company culture is ever fixed. It’s the outcome of a network of strong relationships that evolve over time, relationships that develop as a business expands, contracts, and changes, relationships that respond to shifting marketplaces and industry conditions. Company culture must be responsive, and it thrives when leadership includes great ideas about how to respond – which can come from any staff member, in fact. Your culture becomes even more responsive as its participants become more engaged, when they grow as people and as professionals 

JB: Can you offer up some examples of companies that embrace the process of innovation?

KS: Zillow hosts quarterly Innovation Weeks, which allows workers to explore new professional interests or create tools to improve the organization. Organizations such as Salesforce, Yelp, and Adobe have implemented educational-development and management-training programs to engage employees and boost retention levels.    

The bottom line is that you need to empower the employees with whom you work, making them key contributors to your organization’s culture initiatives. Implement feedback and one-to-one opportunities that allow your leaders to learn from them. Innovation stems from exactly this kind of proactive pro-people approach.

JB: How can the human resources department go beyond its stereotypical role to help with establishing a culture of innovation?

KS: To be sure, recruiting and rules are critical functions within any organization. Business environments evolve and grow organically, however, not mechanically; they are comprised of people, not three-ring binders. It’ s all about a mindset. Prioritizing the human input and energy of an organization is a key pathway to innovation for technology companies — and any business, for that matter. We know people-driven growth leads to technology innovations in an increasingly people-focused industry. With the above strategies in our toolkits, company culture can take us there.

We all need to heed Karen’s words and we should all work hard to build the kind of workplace that she describes. In the innovation-thirsty world of mobile technology and marketing, a strong internal culture is key to the innovations that will take us forward.

Julie Bernard is CMO at Verve

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