The world of corporate innovation – and business in general – is full of buzzwords.

Many people associate innovation teams with open plan rooms filled with smiling faces playing table tennis. While the words we use to describe our problems matter, it’s how we address those problems that counts.

The methods and approaches we use to tackle problems in our organizations is what we call our culture. Culture dictates the ways that we address recurring problems, but it also defines the priorities that we give to different types of problems.

These methods and priorities are a result of the small things that everyone in the business does on a regular basis. These tiny habits range from the language used within the business to the processes in place for actually solving day-to-day problems.

So, if you’d like to change your culture to cultivate innovation you should focus on changing what people do. At a recent Innov8rs Connect event, Tristan Kromer and his colleagues at Kromatic helped us to understand how to do just that.

What Do People Actually Do?

In order to have a little control over the culture within your organization, you first have to truly understand what affects it. You need to understand what your teams are doing on a regular basis, while also understanding what it takes to form and break habits.

When you see people doing something a lot, it eventually appears to be normal. Thinking of it as if you were a new employee at a company, you can imagine watching those around you when you first start, to gauge how people interact with each other.

Influencing Others

Over time, you gradually work out what kind of language people use, the processes that are in place, and the styles of problem-solving people employ. You then – both consciously and unconsciously – pick up some of those behaviors. In this way, you form new habits.

By seeing others around you solving problems in specific ways, you learn what kinds of solutions work in what kinds of situation. In a nutshell, cultural norms create expectations that influence future behavior. If you see a person do behavior A every day, you’re very likely to do behavior A in the future too.

Habits by their very nature are hard to form and hard to give up. To form the best habits for your organization, you want to pick things that yield the right results, while also making sure your teams feel like they must be done. Doing this relies on a little bit of habit science.

How Habits Work

The Fogg behavior model is a good way to start creating habits. Essentially, for a habit to form easily, it must be really easy to do. The lower the motivation requirements, the more likely it is that your team will pick up and maintain that habit. This relies on having a prompt, so that every time your team member does x, they also do y.

This could go along the lines of:

  1. Every time a meeting ends
  2. You write down one good thing and one area of improvement from the session

Following the pattern of Trigger – Action – Reward, even seemingly mundane habits can become second nature within your teams. You need a reward in these cases especially, as the action isn’t always enjoyable. However, sometimes the reward comes directly from the action, such as the enjoyment of exchanging thoughts and information with your team.

As a rule for creating the right behaviors, having a naturally occurring reward is best. It’s okay to create artificial incentives, but if the habit cycle is self-sustaining, it’s much easier to let it run on autopilot.

Armed with this knowledge, how do you then make sure that these behaviors are the right ones?

How to Form a Healthy Innovation Culture

It’s one thing to watch behaviors become habits, but forming the right kind of innovation culture, one that is truly healthy, requires a bit of intervention on your part. There are lots of different ways to foster the right kind of innovation culture, and they apply to every kind of organization.

One very useful method is to run retrospectives after meetings. Meetings are almost synonymous with corporate life and so making them effective is a good way to ensure your organization runs efficiently.

Examples of Behaviors

Sitting down and asking questions like how the meeting was run and what things could be improved next time is a great behavior to instill within your teams. It makes meetings more productive, while also ensuring your team is engaging with each other.

Peer to peer coaching is another behavior that normalizes the sharing of information within your teams. Everyone brings different skills to the table, and not everyone wants to ask the boss for help. Encourage peer to peer coaching to make it easier for your teams to share knowledge with one another.

Other behaviors, like providing radically candid feedback and performing root-cause analyses are great too. By putting the right behaviors in place, you can encourage your teams to act in the right ways to foster innovation without much effort.

Pick Behaviors You Can Actually See

Choosing the right behaviors involves looking at several different variables and ensuring you’re tailoring the approach to your own organization, not just choosing the ones that work for other businesses.

You need to ask what the job of culture is, and this goes deeper to asking what the purpose of each individual behavior is and what is its reason for existence. Cultural habits each have a solid purpose. They should align everyone to achieve a certain goal, and so you need to obviously understand the goal of the behavior first.

Job to Be Done

This can be thought of using the “job to be done” model. This could be functional, emotional, personal or social, or a mix of several of these. Taking the negative example of blame culture, its function should be to encourage fixing problems.

However, putting the blame on someone as a reflex actually discourages people from volunteering for extra work as they fear they’ll end up in more trouble if things go wrong. So, while that kind of behavior might intend to serve one purpose, what it actually does is completely different.


Our example of retrospectives is a better behavior to encourage within your team. Being together and reflecting with others after any kind of session or meeting serves several positive purposes, with the most important being the creation of a shared understanding of what went wrong or where things could improve next time.

Retrospectives also allow for fresh heads to look back at the session, with cool emotions and a little distance between things. Regardless of the behavior, one of the most important aspects of habit formation in creating innovation culture within your organization is making sure these behaviors are measurable.

Measuring the Success of Behaviors

If the habits and behaviors you’re fostering within your business have objectives – as they should – then they also need to be measurable. You need to ask from the beginning:

  • What should happen as a result of this habit?
  • What should the impact be?

Only by doing this will you be able to actually gauge whether or not what you’re doing is working. Having metrics in place from the start is the best way to ensure you don’t waste time, money or resources.

Taking the example of meetings and retrospectives once more, there are lots of ways you can measure the success of these behaviors. One way would be to look at feedback and run surveys to ask your teams how useful they think these retrospectives are.

If you run one-on-one meetings, you could look at the percentages of these meetings that are cancelled or delayed to gain an understanding of how your employees prioritize these. If lots of these meetings are cancelled or delayed, it’s probably a good idea to look at how they could be improved, by using surveys or feedback, or to ask if this behavior is one that just doesn’t work within your organization.

Forming the right culture within your organization isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time and effort, but it’s possible. By forming tiny habits, and encouraging the right behaviors within your business, you can indeed create an innovation culture (beyond the buzzwords).