Why company culture can make or break innovation

Leaders and information workers agree that innovation — the development and launch of new products or services — is essential for enterprises to succeed in today’s competitive environment. But even with that knowledge and powerful strategies in place, organizations are still struggling to innovate successfully. In our most recent survey of more than 1,700 leaders and 8,000 information workers in seven global markets, we discovered why: company culture. Factors like resistance to change, internal politics, and burnout can keep teams from having the energy to experiment and create with confidence. 

Below, we’ll dive into these cultural challenges and how you can tackle them. With these strategies, a fresh mindset, and a few Miro templates, you can set the conditions to empower your team to build the next great thing. 

Resistance to change stops innovation in its tracks

Remember Kodak cameras? During the era of print photography, Eastman Kodak dominated the market. Yet when a Kodak employee, Steven Sasson, invented the first digital camera in 1975, Kodak refused to embrace this new technology. While Kodak tried to cling to its print business, the competition moved ahead, and Kodak ultimately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012. 

Kodak’s insistence on holding tight to an old way of doing things highlights what 33% of the information workers in Miro’s survey cited as their number one cultural challenge to innovation: resistance to change.

There’s no doubt that trying new things can be scary, but leaders can take important steps to reduce their teams’ nerves about the unknown. Prioritizing and nurturing psychological safety empowers information workers to take risks and go beyond their comfort zones. This sends the important message that it’s okay to try and fail — a necessary component of innovation. 

Fear holds everyone back

In Miro’s survey, four out of 10 information workers believe fear gets in the way of innovation at their company. One third of leaders also expressed the fear that unsuccessful innovations might damage their professional reputation. Unfortunately, this fear can mean getting left behind while the competition forges on.

But exploring new terrain doesn’t need to be scary. Leaders can encourage an experimentation mindset among workers and then rigorously test the results before bringing about changes on a larger scale. 

An added bonus: Embracing experimentation as a principle of innovation doesn’t just help teams create the next big thing, it also makes them stronger. Our survey found that a culture of innovation boosts employee engagement, making people feel more excited about and invested in their company’s future. 

Internal politics create fear, too

Another cultural blockage inhibiting innovation, according to 28% of information workers in Miro’s survey, is internal politics. Innovation can present a threat to the established order at an organization. Individuals who suggest a new way to do things may be perceived as upsetting the hierarchy, ultimately finding little support for their ideas. 

Bureaucracy can be another obstacle. Information workers at organizations with a top-heavy bureaucracy might face challenges in getting approval to try something new, while leaders may be hesitant to make room in an established budget to support experiments that might not pan out. 

Senior executives, in particular, carry an important responsibility in examining where the internal political obstacles to innovation lie. There are numerous examples of revolutionary technologies, ranging from the Sony Walkman to the Mini Cooper, where senior leaders exerted behind-the-scenes influence to champion innovations that had previously been blocked at other levels of an organization. 

Burnout leaves even the most creative minds depleted

A 2022 McKinsey Health survey of 15,000 workers in 15 countries reported that almost a quarter of employees reported feelings of burnout. Burnout conditions can be caused by everything from unsupportive management to a lack of work-life balance and mental blocks, all of which make innovation nearly impossible. Employees in a state of depletion cannot do their best work and are likely to be disengaged from their jobs. They may also be looking for other positions where they’d feel more supported. 

Employers can tackle burnout by listening to their employees and creating an environment that prioritizes wellbeing. Encouraging collaboration among teams and departments can also help employees feel heard and build relationships, all of which create the necessary conditions for innovation. 

Focus on culture today to spark innovation tomorrow

It’s clear that innovation cannot take place unless leaders create a culture where creativity thrives and workers feel supported. That’s why it’s more important than ever to attend to employee wellbeing and remove internal obstacles to creativity. Make sure employees know that taking risks is valuable (and that failure is OK!). The alternative — letting fear get in the way — may just get you left behind. 

Want more innovation insights?

Dive into the findings from Miro's global innovation survey.

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