A 16th century English headmaster, William Horma, was the first on record to say that necessity is the mother of invention. Mater artium necessitas, to be exact. What he meant is that new problems breed new solutions. It’s not often that three words carry such perennial weight.
In our blog series we already talked quite a bit about the importance of work culture in business, and the way things are going, we’ll have plenty to talk about for years to come. That’s because the evolution of work culture is a necessary invention. As businesses face intensified competition and a need to innovate, evolve and adapt, they are compelled by necessity to probe into the psychological metrics of recruiting and talent management.
In the next five years, the first human beings to have spent their entire lives connected to cyberspace will enter the workforce. Even if this wasn’t the case, connectivity has changed us all. It’s brought with it a new set of expectations, demands, priorities. It’s changed the way employees think about company loyalty and career development, and the way employers think about discovering and developing those employees.
But when it comes right down to it, a hundred pages of theory aren’t as compelling as a handful of real life examples. Let’s look at what four companies are doing to push the boundaries of company culture and steady themselves in the shifting landscape.
A company that’s worth $101.8 billion dollars may seem capable of things a small company can’t do. Free abundant food for all is one example. But there are things about Google’s work culture that even small businesses can emulate. The creative process is highly transparent and collaborative, and even entry-level employees can get face time with the leaders at the very top. It’s more than talented people that keeps this company at the cutting edge; it’s an innovative work culture.
This Australian branding agency has demonstrated a commitment to cultural innovation by paying close attention to how their employees are (or are not) innovating new ideas. When a survey revealed challenges in the area of innovation, the leadership took action. They put resources into employee training, and put innovation in the front seat by including it in performance evaluations. They even created a physical space for employees to brainstorm new ideas. Since then, they’ve landed on a slew of “most innovative” and “best places to work” lists.
The glamour factor might help, but it can’t be the only reason that Dreamworks boasts an appalling staff retention rate of 97%. The people at the top need everyone beneath them to supply high levels of creative juice, and this is accomplished by putting a prime on risk-taking and open conversations. Part of the reason employees stick around is because they aren’t afraid to fail—and because they aren’t afraid to fail, they aren’t afraid to innovate.
4. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
This is another mammoth, but nobody can say they’re resting on their laurels. That’s because Four Seasons has launched a program that allows its entire workforce, via General Managers, to identify problems and contribute new ideas that make it all the way to the top. Known as BLUEWATER, this program is really just an internal form of crowdsourcing. Instead of bringing in consultants, Four Seasons is turning to its own employees—the ones who deal with customers directly—to drive innovation. This involves them in the brand and empowers them to change it. The bottom-line benefits of this type of work culture innovation are virtually proven.
The list goes on….
This only a tiny sample of what’s out there, but you still may have noticed that only one Australian company made this list. That’s not because we couldn’t find four Australian companies with innovative work cultures. In fact, there are hundreds of domestic companies doing exciting things. But it’s also true that as a whole, Australia has not been quick-on-the-draw when it comes to work culture innovation. A strong penchant for hierarchical systems, and a resistance to more transparent and collaborative atmospheres, are two factors often mentioned in the public sphere.
This doesn’t have to be to our detriment. For one thing, it creates more space for differentiation. Those companies that step up and begin to innovate their cultures will begin attracting more talent and innovating new ways of conducting business. We can also look at what’s being done by companies around the world (such as those listed above), mimic their successes, and learn from their mistakes.
Being willing to step out and experiment, however, remains a pillar of the forward-thinking company.
The mathematician Alfred North Whitehead once challenged the idea that necessity is the mother of invention. He argued that science is the basis of invention, and that “science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity.”
Pleasurable intellectual curiosity may not sound like a recipe for sound business activities, but that’s also the point. The real danger in today’s business landscape is being overly risk-averse, and only innovating work culture when there seems to be no other way.
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