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You've probably heard the saying "if you're not changing, you're dying." In today's marketplace, with the rapid advancement of technology, greater access to new data, and ever-changing customer expectations, it couldn't be more true.

Companies of all types and sizes therefore are turning to innovation as the answer to how to keep up.

The innovation engine has many moving parts, however, and the parts are assembled differently for each organization.

However, there is one overriding commonality among companies that have found a way to consistently deliver great ideas and bring them to life. Those companies build a spirit of innovation into the heart of company culture. The established set of values, norms, and behaviors of leaders and employees create a common mindset and even an expectation to think creatively, be different, and always push to find a better way.

Here are six key organizational traits required to build a culture of innovation.

1. Unrelenting customer focus

Organizations with a sharp customer focus have a deeper understanding of customer needs and pain points. This knowledge inspires a more urgent and creative approach to finding the best solutions because there is greater clarity on the effect and value that will be delivered once the solution is in place. Staying completely "dialed in" to your customers provides a continuous source of motivation for problem solving and continuous improvement.

2. A passion to serve

Companies with a passion to serve are naturally solution-driven. They recognize that "the whole is stronger than the parts" and are therefore more willing to collaborate, often breaking down silos to maximize institutional knowledge in the pursuit of new and better ways to serve their customers.

Companies with this passion also tend to have a stronger belief that whatever the obstacle, they will succeed.

3. Competitive spirit

When the will to be the best and push harder than the rest is the cultural norm, innovation can flourish.

Generating unique ideas and implementing them is hard, so a strong desire to beat the competition and get there fast is critical to maintaining resolve and repeated success. Moreover, a big win can be euphoric, injecting new energy, passion, and confidence into the organization. Those feelings can become contagious and develop into a positive catalyst for ongoing change.

4. Teamwork and collaboration

Many companies might have an "idea guy"—a person they look to who has a unique perspective and is willing to share bold new thoughts. An idea guy can play an important role in a company's path to achieving a culture of innovation. But the reality is that great ideas are rarely generated by the thinking of just one person.

In highly innovative organizations, teamwork and collaboration are key. Most innovation comes from taking multiple ideas from multiple sources, combining them, knocking them together, having them collide, and then morphing them into something new. When an element of your culture is that it's OK to abandon yourself to the strengths of others, innovation will thrive.

5. Courage

Challenging the norm and being different takes guts. Companies that develop and support courageous employees and leaders are more innovative and usually more profitable. To facilitate creative thinking and a higher tolerance for change, create an environment where it's OK to challenge decisions, take some risks, and fail once in a while as part of the journey toward success

6. Listening

Listening brings it all together because when voices are heard, change can happen. Great ideas are often hard to explain or understand at first. It might take patience, nurturing, and asking a lot of questions to fully develop a new idea or figure out how to articulate it in clear and simple terms.

Most importantly, a culture that values listening will uncover new opportunities and develop ideas that others won't ever see or even consider. That can be a tremendous competitive advantage.

* * *

Organizations that build and foster a culture of innovation achieve greater success than their competitors who do not. But like every other part of a successful business, a culture has to be continually monitored, managed, and occasionally refreshed. Focus on these six organizational traits and your chances for long-term success is excellent.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Jeff Sierra

Jeff Sierra, a marketing strategist and technologist, is president and CMO of Mind Fuel, a provider of marketing strategy and business planning solutions.

LinkedIn: Jeff Sierra