Your ‘Innovative’ Workplace is not Enough

The term “innovative workplace culture” is increasingly clichéd, with little thought about what it means in practice. And yet a successful workplace culture is a business imperative for companies expected to lead the way in design and innovation in today’s experience economy.

Drawing on my experience as a design, strategy and innovation recruiter, here are five key strategies for creating a successful workplace culture.

1. Create bold values underpinned by aspirational vision

It’s all too easy to think that if you add the words ’innovative’ or ‘creative’ in front of workplace culture, it’s job done. Fifteen or so years ago, that was arguably the case but these days, descriptions like innovative and creative are ubiquitous especially in the service design sector. What prospective clients and employees are interested in is what makes your business stand out from all the other creative and innovative companies out there.

Culture and values are important because increasingly clients and candidates want to work with like-minded businesses.

Culture is likely to be a big factor both in a client’s decision to appoint your company and in a candidate’s decision to be hired by you. Culture is all about values: what principles and ideals does your business hold dear: what do you stand for? Culture and values are important because increasingly clients and candidates want to work with like-minded businesses – i.e. those who share their own culture and values.

Schools and universities proclaim their values by way of a motto. With the exception of big multinationals like Ford (“One Team. One Plan. One Goal”), corporate mottos or mission statements appear to have fallen out of fashion. While big corporate mission statements may seem cheesy, it’s a good idea for companies to record their values and vision and share them throughout the organisation. There is an obvious benefit to doing this for new joiners but it never hurts senior leadership to be reminded of first principles. This is especially true if your business is facing a big decision about whether to expand, or make a significant hire. At crunch times like these, referring back to your values can help clarify the path ahead.

A famous example of a book of values is The Little Book of IDEO created by CEO Tim Brown. None of the seven “human centred axioms” it outlines such as “Talk Less, Do More” or “Be Optimistic” are particularly ground breaking. And yet their simplicity makes them very relatable: Brown describes them as “the ties that bind us as a culture.” Meanwhile Netflix outlines the seven aspects of its company culture which include “freedom and responsibility” and “high performance” in its renowned culture deck. Netflix values are described as the skills and behaviours the company encourages and rewards. The deck leaves no doubt about what Netflix stands for as a company or what it expects from its staff.

2. Build an environment that fosters entrpreneurialism, creativity and freedom

For designers and innovators, the day job is all about thinking big and not being bound by structure and process, so your company’s working environment must reflect this. Businesses that trust and empower their staff to contribute to all aspects of running the business, tend to be more successful not least because employees are likely to be more engaged and committed if they feel valued and involved. Google, which regularly tops lists of best companies to work for, seeks staff feedback on everything from remuneration to the design of office bicycles and is also very open about sharing the company’s financial results.

There is a growing demand for workspaces to be easily hackable.

Physical environment is also very important with many service design agencies providing beautifully designed work spaces with dedicated zones for quiet working, socializing and relaxing. With agile thinking a key aspect of digital service design, there is a growing demand for workspaces to be easily “hackable” or reconfigured for different purposes such as Fjord’s Berlin studio where employees can be workshopping with clients during the day and partying in the same space, at night. Spaces which encourage co-creation are also on-trend: Google’s Campus Madrid aims to bring entrepreneurs and start-ups together in a converted battery factory which combines space and light with industrial chic and a colour palette inspired by Spanish artists such as Picasso.

3. Encourage diversity and inclusion

It’s generally accepted that greater cultural diversity encourages innovation by encouraging out of the box thinking. This is in addition to growing evidence that increased diversity makes sound business sense.  Non-profit organisation Catalyst combined research from influential global studies to create an infographic listing 39 benefits arising from a more diverse and inclusive workforce. These range from better financial performance, to increased innovation and creativity. Diversity is about ensuring there are equal opportunities for under-represented talent including women, ethnic minorities and LGBT candidates – but it goes further. What training does your company have in place to root out unconscious bias? Has your business reached out to organisations promoting under-represented groups such as Stonewall or Business In the Community? What mentoring schemes do you operate?

4. Manage your digital reputation

With websites such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor offering reviews of what different companies are like to work for, what ex-employees say about your company’s culture is as important as what you say yourself. Managing your company’s digital reputation is key, as anything from a bad review on Glassdoor to a  “truth bomb” resignation letter going viral, can damage your efforts to attract and keep the best candidates and clients. It’s worth ensuring that employees have regular opportunities to give honest feedback about issues that are troubling them so that grievances don’t escalate. It’s also advisable to set up a Google Alert for mentions of your business on social media so that you can react quickly if negative reviews appear.

5. Invite external perspectives

Getting third party feedback about your company culture may feel counter intuitive however recruitment companies can provide useful objective feedback about how your business is perceived by prospective candidates.  It’s also important to work in partnership with your recruiter in order to hire the candidates who are the best fit for your business. Invite recruiters to spend time in your office, get a feel for what it is like to work there and what makes your business stand out from the competition. Without this relationship, recruitment can feel transactional, as if no-one cares about candidates’ cultural compatibility with the company they are applying to.

In summary, it’s no coincidence that companies such as Smart Design and Fjord talk about culture being “all important” for design and innovation. The right culture will attract the best clients and candidates and help retain clients and staff; it also ensures that your team is working optimally day in, day out.

By Drew Welton

About the author

Drew is a Founding Partner at Bamboo Crowd, a leading recruitment consultancy specialising in innovation, strategy, and design. Bamboo Crowd was created to bring the passion back into what makes the innovation industry great: people; humans; culture; diversity. Over the last ten years, Drew has recruited for global innovators, challenger brands, and disruptive startups fuelling growth for businesses such as Deloitte, Capgemini, Omnicom, Bow & Arrow, King.com, and Deliveroo.

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