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Culture Leads Innovation

By Joey Havens

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Our profession has not been known for innovation, and the transformative change we are all experiencing has taken out a lot of really smart businesses across a variety of industries. In fact, over 50% of Fortune 500 companies have disappeared since the year 2000. Lots of really smart people have failed to innovate rapidly enough to remain relevant.  

Innovation is not easy. Yet, innovation talk is everywhere now. How-to-articles and conference keynotes abound on the topic. I’ve even been reading that many businesses are creating positions and departments whose sole responsibility is innovation. I’m going to risk hurting some feelings and tell you that, in my experience, you don’t start with the goal of being innovative. You must start with your culture. A strong culture leads to innovation.

At HORNE, we’ve found that innovation is the product of a strong culture where there’s a strong sense of belonging. People will take risks when they feel safe to take them. What innovation do you know where mistakes were not part of the process? People must feel safe to make a mistake, supported by a culture that helps them back up with a new learning. They will risk challenging the status quo when they feel safe—especially when you are intentional in growing a culture to be even better. Conflict avoidance is a cancer in our firms and it kills innovation. A strong sense of belonging leads to more candor.

I share this openly because we stumbled onto our innovation and ability to quickly change the status quo. We (especially me) made a lot of mistakes as we were intentional in making culture our number one priority. We didn’t set out with a vision to be known as an innovative firm. Forward Thinking and Windshield View are two of our building blocks in our Wise Firm, but never in our vision did we set out to be specifically innovative. We did set out to beBetter. 

Now, with the benefit of having learned from our mistakes and due to team members who work everyday to beBetter and challenge the status quo, I can share with you what we learned are keys to a culture of innovation for us:

HORNE’S Principles for a Culture of Innovation

  1. A culture with a strong sense of belonging leads the way to innovation
  2. Tone at the top, partner alignment and urgency are requirements for innovation
  3. An intentional focus to beBetter ignites innovation
  4. More people with more input gets more buy–in which pushes innovation faster
  5. Focusing on the positive rather than the negative accelerates innovation, leapfrogging the barriers
  6. Sharing stories of success challenges other groups to innovate
  7. Practicing anticipatory skills makes innovation real and reachable
  8. Encouraging questions will lead to change and innovation
  9. “Learn Fast, Learn Together, Learn Forward” drives the mindset of innovation