How a Culture of Innovation Improves Life and Bottom Line

Imagine deploying 30 software innovations per day as a standard practice. Would this be the death knell of work/life balance? A driver of high turnover rates?

In reality, this rapid innovation brought the hours under control for a team of developers at the online market, with notable gains in customer experience. A Forbes article chronicles Etsy’s journey that began with a commitment by management to “innovate or die.”  The company was dealing with “scheduled downtime,” unplanned outages, and a workplace with long, stressful days. A change in corporate culture was the first step in a journey toward reaping the rewards of innovation.

Innovation as the DNA of the Workplace

It’s likely that most executives would cite innovation as a key factor for future success, but the “how” of fostering innovation in the workplace is anything but uniform. A separate Forbes article warns against limiting innovation to specific times and events, such as brainstorm sessions or off-site retreats. Instead, the author advocates a state of constant innovation that is “carefully integrated into the work environment.” Creating a culture of  innovation requires specific leadership roles. All levels of the organization must understand the desired outcomes, and management must provide a space where appropriate innovation occurs naturally and continually. Leaders are more “innovation architects” than innovators. In the case of Etsy, the goal was simply to make a very cool online market.

Reaping the Rewards of Accelerated Innovation

Etsy introduced continuous deployment as a means of accelerating innovation. The engineering team was imbued with the principles of “autonomy, mastery, and purpose,” and a single group was given reign over both writing and deploying software updates. Management was no longer required to approve all changes to the website, with fully tested improvements being deployed immediately. Five years into Etsy’s innovation revolution, the workplace and the product have been transformed. Some notable changes:

  • Continuous improvement of product performance
  • Greater frequency of changes that add significant sales revenue
  • Smaller, rapid releases make it easier to identify and fix problems
  • Long days and late nights for developers are largely gone
  • “Scheduled downtime” and outages are largely gone
  • Rapid learning accompanies culture of innovation

Creative Solutions Come in All Sizes

Workplace innovations do not need to involve sweeping change or even be serious to improve quality of life. The following real-world examples brought positive, measurable change to their respective companies:

  • Musical stairs with steps that light up caused the adjacent escalator to go mostly unused as employees (literally) ran to the stairs.
  • Life-sized cutouts of a company’s chief medical officer holding wellness messages were placed in strategic locations around the campus.
  • Employees were given an option of receiving a free flu shot or wearing a mask for the flu season.
  • Managers turned around items in the vending machine so employees could see the nutrition information of products.
  • A corporate marketing team was assigned the promotion of good health as one of its core responsibilities.

All of the above initiatives were possible because the workplace culture gave employees the freedom to offer and then execute new ideas. If a vision can be successfully communicated by leadership and adopted by the masses, the creative power of the workforce will drive that vision to new levels of success when employees are given the opportunity. Have you contributed new ideas to your workplace? Experienced benefits from a “culture of innovation?” Or perhaps seen a system that discourages innovation? Share your experiences below.