5 Steps to Create an Innovation-Focused Culture

Start by defining who owns the behavior change.

By Andrew Graham, President and CEO,The Forum Corp.

A workplace culture that fosters learning and innovation is a lot like a well-tended garden. Constant nourishment and attention will yield brilliant blooms that your neighbors will envy. But neglect those rose bushes, and the promising buds will die on the vine.

Although organizations invest a huge amount of time and money each year in training and development programs, research by The Forum Corp., a Boston-based training and development organization, found that fewer than 50 percent of all behavior change initiatives actually stick.

There are, however, methods organizations can employ that will help improve the uptake of new behaviors and processes in the workplace.

Here are five steps that will help your organization create a culture that fuels innovation and sales:

  1. Choose who “owns” the change: “Lack of management commitment” is a major reason new behaviors fail to catch on at organizations. Neglecting to define precisely who is expected to drive the desired behavior changes means no one will be directly responsible for the project. Organizations typically approach ownership in one of three ways: Some organizations take a centralized approach to learning, and consistently “push” that message out to users. In other organizations, managers of training participants consistently coach and support ongoing training. And in still other organizations, employees or “learners” actively seek out support and ask for feedback through their own initiative. It’s critical to assess your organization to identify the primary and secondary owners. Then, the appropriate sustainment activities can be chosen.
  2. Measurement: Another key element of creating lasting behavioral change is measurement.Before new training takes place, organizations should develop a system for measuring behavior change, including key metrics, how they will be tracked and by whom, and how the results will be reported back to stakeholders. Measurement bolsters change because it’s grounded in reality, and is viewed as credible. Those clear roles and responsibilities will help the team move forward.
  3. Sustain to attain: To create behaviors that have a shelf life far beyond the initial training session or workshop, organizations should avoid the “spray and pray” training approach, and instead adopt a “sustain and attain” way of thinking. “Spray and pray” approaches are typified by one-off follow-ups after formal learning interventions, a “push” approach that repeats, restates, or “drills” key concepts, and a follow-up to track achievement of learning goals. In contrast, the “sustain to attain” approach is more effective in sustaining behavior change. This approach is typified by multiple touches at multiple levels over time, a “pull” approach that challenges and supports application through multiple media and engagement to support and expand application.
  4. Just do it: A great way to solidify any new skill—from mastering the piano to learning a new sales tactic—is by practicing it. After the initial training, organizations should either set up simulated practice opportunities or have employees practice newly learned skills on the job, when appropriate. Other key sustainment activities include observing those skills in action by seeking out examples, identifying ways to assess one’s progress, and getting (and giving) support and coaching for ongoing improvement.
  5. Reward: Many organizations underestimate the power of praising and rewarding their employees. But affirmations and recognition will help new behaviors stick. Praise the staffers who take their newly learned skills and run with them. The logic is that employees who feel as though their efforts are appreciated will be motivated to continue using their newfound skills.

Andrew Graham is president and CEOof The Forum Corp., a Boston-based training and development organization.

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