Crafting a Culture of Innovation

David Cohan
CODE + CONTOUR by IPSY
7 min readOct 6, 2023

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Introduction

Organizations need more than good products. They need innovative processes to drive down costs and improve productivity. When productivity and efficiencies in production improve through innovation, the value of products and services they sell increases — making innovation the lifeblood of any organization striving to remain competitive and relevant.

One of IPSY’s core values is “We innovate to delight our community.” But before we jump to any conclusions about what innovation means, we should first understand what drives innovation, what we can do as individuals to change the culture, and what has been proven to work at IPSY.

Innovation does not happen without strong leadership. Trying to build an innovative culture without effective leadership would be similar to building a house without a foundation.

Innovation starts with fostering a culture that values and encourages creativity, risk taking and continuous improvement. To instill this culture, first, we can leverage our team with the support of strong leadership. At IPSY, we believe that innovation can come from within our ranks. We actively promote innovation through intrapreneurship, which empowers employees to act as entrepreneurs within the organization. Through dedicated programs and incentives, employees are encouraged to develop and pursue innovative ideas, even the ones that fall outside their regular job descriptions. This approach unleashes the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of employees, leading to the development of groundbreaking products, services, and processes.

On the other hand, maintaining motivation with this approach over time can be extremely difficult and can eventually lead to employees reverting to old routines and quickly losing interest.

So…what can we do about it?

Let’s start with managers!

Listen

Every individual is different. What motivates a business analyst may be totally different from what motivates a software engineer. There may even be differences between what motivates one software engineer versus another; one may want to dig deeper into a specific technology, while another may want to grow into a generalist role. Managers need to work with employees to understand what they want for their future, and one-on-one conversations help make that possible. Providing opportunities for team members to excel and become leaders within the organization goes a long way toward motivating them to continue producing quality work and building company loyalty.

Recognize

People love recognition. Whether they’re doing a task that no one else wants to do or have taken the initiative to do something new, they don’t want their hard work to go unnoticed. Establishing a culture in which people regularly thank each other and express gratitude to their coworkers can make for a happier environment.

Empower

Flexibility shouldn’t be limited to start times or work locations. Employees should be empowered to make decisions about their work. There are certainly guidelines and policies that must be respected, but in general, it’s better to have employees be part of the decision-making process (especially when it comes to coding standards, processes, tools, and design), rather than forcing them to adhere to someone else’s preferences.

Gamify

Software engineers in particular are often big gamers and will spend hours on a challenging game in order to get to the next level. Gamification is big business and any time you can make work fun, you’ll have more energized and engaged employees. Hackathons and similar efforts that give people free reign to work on code outside of their normal work activities have led to innovations benefiting both employee and employer.

Ensure we’re surrounded with the best talent

Hiring and maintaining the best talent is always something that motivates people to learn and grow (and it also happens that talented people are the most curious people), so this contributes to promoting a culture of greatness and continuous improvement.

Now here’s what anyone can do.

Innovate

Technology is always changing, and techies often pride themselves on keeping up with the times. If they’re stuck for months maintaining old, broken code written long ago on older technologies, they’ll become frustrated. It might be time to revamp that software and modernize.

Train

Once you agree that it’s time to ditch the old and get with the times, make sure staff members have ample opportunity to be trained properly so they can perform at their full potential.

Simplify

We like to get work done, but often the plethora of tools required to do so are slow, cumbersome, or don’t integrate nicely. Likewise, bureaucratic processes can end up slowing employees down. “The Agile Manifesto” promotes simplification, emphasizing the idea of “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” Look for ways to streamline your processes and simplify your tools so your workforce is focusing on work that matters most.

Respect

None of the steps outlined above should be taken in an effort to influence employees into doing work they don’t want to do. A culture of respect means understanding how to best motivate each unique employee by genuinely caring about their happiness and their interest in success, and respecting their individualism and unique talents.

Growth

Once we’ve achieved all of the above, it’s time to embrace change, feedback, and any learnings that have surfaced so we can become better professionals and colleagues at work.

What works at IPSY?

So, everything sounds great, doesn’t it? These are general guidelines for creating room for innovation, but let’s get real — it isn’t always easy. Business needs and monotonous work can easily fade out into darkness, so it is important that we take innovation seriously to truly make space for us to innovate.

We could innovate on a technology, we could train people on tools or technologies they might be interested in, or we could race for the most innovative and formal idea during a hackathon. The key here is to be persistent and ensure you aren’t tempted by the dark side, because promoting innovation will take time — and this is the way.

Here are some of the initiatives at IPSY that are designed to promote contributions at different levels.

Lightning workshops

Lightning workshops are technical workshops in which several interested parties meet weekly to solve a specific, agreed-upon problem. It consists of four stages:

  • Topic selection
  • Sign-ups: Employees who are interested and have time to assist and contribute can choose to participate.
  • The work: Participants meet once a week for four to five weeks, depending on their progress.
  • Closing stage: Participants present what they’ve come up with.

Analysis shows that people freely propose topics, with the consistent attendees eventually going on to facilitate the weekly meetings themselves. Sometimes the outcome is applicable to the real world and sometimes it’s not, but these voluntary workshops provide a valuable opportunity for employees to collaborate with colleagues they might not normally work with, making it a win-win situation. If the solutions surfaced in the workshop are useful, then even better — but it is not mandatory.

Hackathons

We run a week-long hackathon once a year in which we encourage people to work on their innovative ideas. The hackathon’s purpose is to promote “out of the box” thinking, propose new technologies, and encourage ownership by delivering demo-able work.

Similar to lightning workshops, multiple teams have the chance to work on their area of interest; but in this case, there are awards, and thus, there is also recognition. It is a great experience to not only focus on a topic of your interest but also challenge yourself to present it.

Learning Labs

The Learning Labs program is designed to share best practices and promote continuous learning and development within IPSY. Through technical talks and hands-on training, participants gain practical skills and knowledge that can be immediately applied to their work. Sessions are interactive and provide an opportunity for participants to ask questions and engage with the presenter and their peers.

Tech Center of Excellence Forum

The Tech Center of Excellence Forum serves as a governance body ensuring initiatives (especially major tech and business) align with the architecture and ultimately align with the company goals, strategies, and objectives. The forum’s purpose is to support engineers and teams by providing the resources and guidance needed to adopt the right design patterns and produce the best designs with the most appropriate technology.

Architect Ambassador program

The Architect Ambassador program is designed to increase awareness of enterprise architecture practices within IPSY, encouraging an openness to change and an eye toward constant innovation, while also providing an opportunity for interested individuals to learn more about architecture practices and contribute to ongoing architecture efforts.

Conclusion

There is no one golden idea, and innovation varies from organization to organization, but one way to change the culture around innovation is to ensure you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Here at IPSY, we are strong believers that once your organizational culture has shifted, these additional efforts will produce significant improvements to your organization, your platform, and even your products.

Miscellaneous

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