Innovative Corporate Cultures - Are They Really That Important?

Guest Contributorby Lizz Pellet | Posted | Culture

Innovative Corporate Cultures - Are They Really That Important?

In kicking off the New Year, I was thinking about how vastly different the world of work is today than it was even a few short years ago. Not surprisingly, advances in technology and the emergence of social media have us working on a whole new plane — giving credence to the age-old adage “the only thing that remains the same is change.”

Speaking of change, I’m constantly fascinated by how our office language continues to evolve, including the way we communicate at and about work. And, just to be clear, I don’t mean buzzword Bingo kinds of conversations. I’m referring to the catchy phrases we throw into our everyday dialogue to make us sound more strategic.

If you allow me to get a little more “graphic” on the subject, here’s a Wordle of some of these popular words and phrases. Oh, and if you haven’t heard of a Wordle, you’re missing out on a training tool that’s considered best practice.

innovation and culture wordle

Tip: You can create your own here

It’s crazy that you can cut and paste a bunch of text and POOF! — you suddenly have an interesting and creative visual for presenting an idea. Funny how technology is often the key driver of creativity and innovation.  

With innovative corporate cultures best practices soon become the norm

Innovation is one aspect of organizational culture that will always be in a state of constant change — in any industry. Organizations that fail to keep up with the latest “new” things are often at risk of being left behind. I marvel at companies today that want to learn about the latest and greatest new best practices so they can align their strategies appropriately.

But what some organizations don’t realize is that a best practice becomes the norm very quickly. So, when it comes right down to it, the real competitive differentiator for an organization is innovation and creativity — the ability for the company to create its own new best practices.

Of course, it’s up to the organization (and its leaders) to determine how they will foster this kind of culture.

While every organization has an overall governing culture, it also has several sub-cultures. The number of sub-cultures and how they’re manifested is dependent on how an organization is structured. Sub-cultures can be geographic, functional or departmental. Within these sub-cultures, organizations can cultivate as well as manage innovation and creativity.

In a hospital environment, for example, you’d want to set different parameters for risk-taking, innovation and creativity in the R&D department versus the operating room.  It goes without saying that you don’t want an operating room doctor getting too creative with an invasive procedure. 

The Zappos example

One of the most recognized companies for having a very defined and innovative culture is Zappos, the world’s largest online shoe store. The company is known for constantly striving to find new ways of doing things and — not surprisingly — raising the bar every year. For the last two years Zappos has been working on creating and delivering “happiness” — a movement that grew out of the New York Times best-selling book Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Zappos announced they were taking innovation to a whole new level, that “they are saying goodbye to their bosses and going with a whole new leadership model. The unusual approach is called a “holacracy.” Developed by a former software entrepreneur, holacracy replaces the traditional corporate chain of command with a series of overlapping, self-governing “circles.” In theory, this gives employees more of a voice in the way the company is run.”

As someone’s who’s been working with companies to measure organizational culture over the past 15 years, I find Zappos’ approach very interesting because, time and time again, the feedback I hear from employees is that what they want more of is autonomy and empowerment.

But on the flip side, I also see individuals who are very clear that they want professional development and fair, consistent treatment for all employees. So, what I also see is that this restructuring approach has the propensity not to be able to deliver on those desired values.

Quoting from the Washinton Post article referenced above, here’s why:

At its core, a holacracy aims to organize a company around the work that needs to be done instead of around the people who do it. As a result, employees do not have job titles. They are typically assigned to several roles that have explicit expectations. Rather than working on a single team, employees are usually part of multiple circles each of which performs certain functions.”

So, formal definition aside (and reading between the lines) what this tells us is there simply aren’t any managers in a holacracy. Back in the old days we would have referred to this as the inmates running the asylum, but here in the world of Zappos it has the potential to become the most innovative way to run a company.

While the verdict is still out on whether or not the approach will be effective for Zappos, it’s probably worth keeping an eye on how things go. After all it might just be the next new best practice.

Your turn: What’s your take on what makes up an innovative corporate culture? Do you think Zappos’ holacracy will work long-term?

Align Competencies with Core Company Values to Create the Culture You Need

Learn how to actively create and nurture your organization's culture through effective talent management best practices.


Align Competencies with Core Company Values to Create the Culture You Need

Learn how to actively create and nurture your organization's culture through effective talent management best practices.


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