Collaborate To Innovate

People and culture strategy

At its core, a people and culture strategy means creating an employee experience in which you support, equip and empower your people to contribute to a resilient and innovative organization.

There are proven approaches to creating a company culture that enables better performance in innovation, collaboration, and employee engagement. Logically, this should always be custom-tailored.  So let’s start with 3 proven strategies that don’t work and then tell you what to do instead.

We have consulted and trained 197 organizations in 60 countries in over 17 different industries – and we’ve discovered these approaches in lots of situations. So reading this post, you will never make these mistakes yourself in the future.

With our strategies you will keep your employees happy and create real value for the market, while creating goodwill and buzz around your organization.


And this is what you will learn more about in this post.

Why is culture and strategy important?

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, Peter Drucker said. This means: your plan can be really strong, but if people don’t believe in it, it won’t work. It’s important to realize that it is the people who have to put it into practice.

So what does your organization do to let people engage to the goals, mission and strategy of the organization?


What does company culture mean?

Culture means all the behaviour between people in an organization. Mostly it is all the invisible in an organization. It is the way people behave when they work together. It is the way they dress, the way they communicate during meetings and the way they solve problems together.

What does your collaboration style look like in your organization?


A culture of innovation

Innovative organizations constantly strive to stay relevant to their stakeholders and implement the ideas that work. They are agile and resilient to change.

To create a culture of innovations, most organizations need to innovate their culture. That is what social innovation is all about.

By learning as a team how to provide added value to internal and external customers, you continuously respond to changes and developments in your environment. Often this means: execution is power, but having the culture to validate quickly, learn quickly and adapt quickly is much more important.

an innovative organization needs problem solvers who are looking for results without losing their empathy. They make a positive impact by creating an inspiring workplace in which collaboration and movement arise. They do this by challenging the current status quo of solving complex problems and showing real results in new and modern ways. With this behavior they infect others in a positive way.

When others see this as a positive, they will be more open to join this behavior.

Does your organization have an inspiring culture that leads to more innovation?


3 examples of people and culture strategies to avoid.

Innovation = learning. So lets learn from others. We have consulted and trained 197 organizations in 60 countries in over 17 different industries – and we’ve discovered these approaches in lots of situations.

These are strategies we try to avoid. We help our clients to avoid them. And now we want to teach you how you can avoid them as well.

If you are ready to understand why you should not fall in this trap and want to discover alternatives – then keep reading.


DON’T Start things big and bold.

When you’re looking for ways to make positive change happen with your internal dynamics in a significant way, you can not offer your leaders, managers, employees and stakeholders something that “might help them.. maybe.. one day.” No one’s joining a movement for a long time that costs time, money and effort without social proof. Unless they experience what it can bring them themselves. 


If you want to create a group of people with a growth mindset they need to experience it themselves, convince themselves and start selling it to others themselves, so the newbies can experience it themselves too. That is how a social virus works in a positive way.


Achieving this is easily said, but of course hard to achieve. You need to find your first believers, get inside their heads and figure out their challenges and ambitions to be part of this innovation movement. 


Knowing these challenges is key in making your change effective. Because once you know their struggles, you can offer them a solution, or even better: involve them in creating a solution!


You can see the obvious already… You can not achieve this with starting big. We have seen organizations that brought a large group of people together, put them in the spotlight with a vague challenge, expected a huge output and wanted to measure the personal development of all participants to show others how great the program was. I hear you think: “That doesn’t sound so bad…What’s wrong with that?” 


Well, let me tell you. When people have to do something new, work on a certain urgent project and others expect a relevant solution, there is one thing that will happen: people will not be open to learning and reflecting. The big and bold challenge they are facing, in a new way of working will paralyze them. Maybe they will like it for that particular experience, but they’ll never repeat it on their own. And before you know it, your program will be used as an internal marketing tool with no results.


So what to do?! The #1 rule in this case is to start small and intimate. Start with one, not so urgent, but relevant challenge. Something that will be urgent in 1,5 to 2 years for example. Form a group innovators with a total of 5-12 people. When you have a challenge and a group of innovators in mind, move on. Start learning as much as necessary to keep improving. But don’t let the next strategy make a fool out of you!

DON’T focus on innovations

One of the major keys to be successful as a high performing organization is to stay agile.


And the way to do that, is through the collaboration formula. 


With the collaboration formula, you can dramatically expand the amount of people with a growth mindset, putting yourself light years ahead of the competition – and increase the implementation of innovations as a result. 


This way, you see, it’s not about the innovations, its about the innovators! Thinking and doing the opposite is a BIG mistake if you want to stay resilient for ongoing change!


The collaboration formula is a two step strategy. We will dig into this in a second. But first let me explain to you why this formula is necessary.


Lots of people want to help their organization move forward. There are R&D departments, innovation managers, innovation coaches, design thinkers, lean specialists, scrum masters etc. Most of them focus on innovations. Focusing on innovations could mean that their starting point or intention is to adapt to new technologies, buying startups, trying to create a hub next to the organization or set up a temporary team that has to deliver a new proposition. This will lead to new innovations, but won’t make you an innovative organization. 


An innovative organization knows what’s necessary to implement a new solution for a relevant need. They need an engaging idea development process that’s solid as a rock. 


What do we mean by that? Well think about this: an idea goes through lots of people before it is implemented and accepted by it’s users. The ones who come up with the idea are mostly not the ones who develop it further, test it, create prototypes, make it ready to implement and finally introduce it into the market or their own organization. 


A good idea has encountered different departments, decision makers, clients/citizens and other stakeholders before it was introduced to a wide public, a couple of times. The possible iterations make it even harder to make sure that the information through this process is interpreted well. The only way to do this right is with the right collaboration. 


Ok, so let’s get back to the two step collaboration formula.


Step one is all about bringing multidisciplinary people together in a project as we described in the chapter before. This will help you to eventually make the movement scalable. People from different departments work together and infect each other and their other colleagues. Look for a process that already exists and where multiple functions already work together. For example, this could be about customer success. Mostly people from IT, Service and Sales come together here.


Step two is about the design of the learning experience. Bring your design to a point where you have a process that is repeatable, applicable and generates collaborative results. Normally this takes some iterations. Figure out your time per program, insights per program and ideas per person. Next up, bring that together into a pitch for managers and employees. How great would it be if you can promise to come up with more results in less meetings! Invite them to experience it themselves and then help them to do it on their own.


Make the participants ambassadors and help them to involve their team members into the new way of working! If you have the right design, the group will grow. If it doesn’t? You haven’t found your internal product-market fit or language-market fit yet. Keep learning!


This way you create a culture that is focussed on collaboration and sharing knowledge. This will lead to more understanding of other silos, acceptance to do things differently and innovations as a result!


DON’T train people and expect things will change

There are a lot of organizations and decision makers out there who take the “Field of Dreams” approach to change – “If we train people, they will apply it.” Or, in other words, if we help them to develop new skills, their managers and teams will take notice, ask them to help them with a different approach and decide to do all new projects this way. We hate to be the bearer of bad news but… yeah, that’s not true at all.

If your entire development-driving strategy is “Invest in great skills and hope for the best,” you might as well take your money and light a match to it, because that’s just not going to work. If all it took to reach positive development was creating great skilled people, everyone would do it. And becoming agile wouldn’t be so widely popular.

Great, skilled people are important. But it’s only a piece of the puzzle. If you want to move forward as an organization, you need to be smart about it. You need a strategic system for developing people that not only wow themselves, but play nice with their teams and managers. You need to think about how the trained people could apply what they have learned. And think about why a team member or manager should listen to: “I’ve done the training, let’s do this project differently. Trust me!”

What do you think will happen? Probably they are skeptical and if you’ve just finished a training it’s difficult to be the expert that completely knows what it’s doing. Most trained people feel inspired, know it’s helpful but when they have to bring it into practice they recognize that real life isn’t like it was in the training. 

The pitfall is, that people are not able to convince their direct environment, feel misunderstood and still want to apply the new learnings. Especially in these times, where there is a war on talent, it is imaginable that people will look for other opportunities somewhere else. Because what would you do if you have learned something that you believe in and you can’t apply it in your current role? You don’t want this to happen!

So what could you do to avoid this bad strategy of only training people and expecting things to change? 

Design a learning journey in which people learn new ways of working that can be applied on a small scale. Make sure that they learn by doing. Make it safe for the skilled employees, their teams and managers. In tomorrow’s lesson we will reveal 12 engaging and collaborative tactics you can use as an inspiration to help your people to start change in a small and safe way.

Now its your turn.

I hoped you enjoyed my people and culture strategies.

Now i want to hear from you:

Which strategy from this post are you most excited to try? Are you going to use the collaboration formula? Or do you want to focus on learning journeys?

Let me know by leaving a quick reply.

Stay tuned.

Talk Soon,

Michiel Bloemendaal

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