Culture, Engagement, and Innovation: Why Companies Can and Should Target All Three

A strong company culture, highly engaged employees, and the ability to innovate: any organization would love to have these attributes. But why not aim for all three?

In 2010, basketball superstar LeBron James made a blockbuster announcement that he’d be signing with a new franchise, the Miami Heat. Four years and two championships later, James left the Heat to return to his hometown and the team that drafted him, the Cleveland Cavaliers. After another six years, James and the Heat ended up squaring off against each other in the NBA Finals.

A once-in-a-generation player like James needs no introduction. Even non-sports fans know who he is. Such individual talent generally brings success to any organization. By contrast, the Heat survived those lean years after James’ departure with an increasingly mixed group of journeymen and role players.

Yet the Heat remained determined and competitive after James’ departure, as they were before his arrival. Their ability to thrive without top talent is a testament to the power of their organizational culture. To be a Heat player doesn’t mean you have to be a superstar. You have to work hard and be disciplined.

Building culture

Sports offer entertainment to casual viewers, but they also provide valuable insights to leaders in other domains and organizations. The Miami Heat prove that you can sustain success with a consistent commitment to culture. And that’s something every team can strive for.

A self-taught violinist might be gifted, but a violin teacher can spot and correct mistakes in many areas, such as playing posture, hand positioning, or basic instrument care and setup. What makes a successful musician isn’t their talent, but how willing they are to push themselves further and accept feedback.

This ties into how organizations should hire people. Many teams say they value culture fit, but don’t really understand how it works. Culture fit is not the same as getting along with someone. You have to share the same core values and behaviors.

Usually, when people align in those areas, it also follows that they like each other, but not necessarily. Differences in opinion are allowed. It’s vital to keep that in mind. It encourages diversity and prevents groupthink. When your team buys into the company culture, they are able to overcome those differences because of a shared understanding. Everybody knows that they are working together as part of a greater whole.

business people having meeting

Driving engagement

This ties into another factor that many organizations desire, but not everyone manages to tap into successfully. A strong culture is also a major driver of employee engagement.

When employees are happy with their work, it usually means they are satisfied, but not necessarily engaged. Their satisfaction could stem from things such as financial compensation and benefits, or perhaps the flexibility to balance their jobs with leisure interests.

In such a scenario, the satisfied employee might be capable of contributing more, but they have no incentive to do so. They already have sufficient compensation, and could stand to lose valuable flexibility by taking on more tasks.

Engaged employees are the ones who are more likely to go the extra mile and contribute discretionary efforts. And they do so not out of ordinary incentives, but intangible ones.

They belong to a culture. Making further effort gives their work purpose, earns them recognition from their peers, and strengthens their relationships.

Fostering innovation

Organizations are increasingly searching for innovation. Recent times have shown us the powerful benefits of being among the leaders in innovation when disruptive technologies like the internet come along. They have also provided evidence of the value of innovation in the face of negative disruptions like the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some companies, such as Google, Apple, and Facebook, have consistently shown that they can innovate better than others. Thus, leaders seek to intentionally build cultures of innovation within their organizations.

Too often, though, such efforts focus on the tools of innovation. They seek to provide ample resources, outline processes, and evaluate results for success. They end up ignoring intangibles such as values, behaviors, and workplace climate, which are at least as important as determinants of innovation within any company.

People don’t innovate by just doing their jobs. Only when you’re willing to do more and occasionally go beyond, interacting with other roles and departments, will you be able to make new connections and find insights for improvement.

In turn, you need to be able to trust in the shared values and ability of your team to listen to a different opinion. Put these things together, and you can see how engagement, and thereby culture as well, is a major factor in driving innovation. It can be difficult to achieve any one of these things, but if you can do so, you have a good chance of nailing all three.

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