The keys to innovation are not found in an organization’s technology.  Nor are they found in their accounting practices or strategic planning tools.  In fact, the seeds of innovation are not found in formalized rules and procedures.

Instead, innovative companies embrace, recognize, and reward the uniquely human values of each individual worker.  They bring the “human” back to human resources — and reap the financial benefits that result.

In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace where flexibility, speed, and continuous innovation are required just to compete, organizational leaders too often focus on the financial and managerial metrics:

If we can just streamline our costs, we can create profits and financial stability.  

But a singular focus on so-called “tangible” metrics ignores the fundamental component of an innovative company:  the insights and passion of its workforce — which is the source of ALL innovative ideas.

To develop and harness its workforce’s “soft” skills often requires a transformational cultural change.  And that’s where the problems begin.

A fundamental caveat of organizational change is to identify the end result of the change initiative.  How does your organization define “innovation” — and do you understand the cultural requirements for it to take root?

Based on my research, I have discovered 6 cultural characteristics that differentiate high-performing innovative companies from those that are continuing to do “the same old same old” while expecting different results.

  1. A culture of trust.  The employees of innovative companies have a profound paradigm that expects that their coworkers’ actions will be conducive to win-win outcomes.  An innovative culture is characterized by teamwork and collaboration rather than internal competition.
  2. Integrity.  In addition to a belief in the power of trust and collaboration, employees also know they can believe the words and actions of their coworkers.  Lies, manipulation, and (of course) sabotage are not tolerated, so that workers are compelled to say what they mean and mean what they say.
  3. Respect.  Mutual respect is earned by individual workers and the organization as a whole based on the equitable treatment of the workforce.  Beyond professional respect, innovative cultures also recognize and reward acts of kindness and generosity in order to reinforce their importance within the culture.
  4. Humility.  Innovative companies are not run by egomaniacs and narcissists.  “Failure” is viewed as an opportunity to learn — rather than a punishable offense.  Admitting that no one has all the answers encourages workers to continuously seek out and share new ideas and solutions to problems.
  5. Faith.  Innovative cultures build and reinforce employees’ sense of self-worth. Supporting workers’ confidence in their own abilities enhances their confidence to move forward — often into unknown areas of innovation and “blue ocean” thinking.
  6. Hope.  Without hope, workers doubt their own abilities and the capabilities of the organization to move forward into an often unforeseeable future.  Hope requires openness — and openness requires vulnerability — and vulnerability requires a culture of trust, integrity, respect, humility, and faith.  Innovative companies provide emotionally safe work environments that are less prone to stress, burnout, turnover, and sabotage.

The creative thinking that is the source of all potential innovation within an organization is a uniquely human but fragile capability.

But these so-called “soft skills” that characterize the cultures of innovative companies are often overlooked in strategic planning.  Perhaps it’s easier to focus on quantitative metrics rather than getting bogged down in the often messy realm of human emotions and motivation.

But without the presence of these soft skills, companies are unable to respond proactively to obstacles and failures.  Without them, workers become apathetic in carrying out their duties.  Without them, the new ideas and growth of human creativity are unachievable.

Do you have the courage to give your employees the permission to release these soft skills in order to become an innovative leader in your field?

To download the companion infographic to this article, please click here.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

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