The two are very different, and not identifying the differences could mean confusion in your mission and culture.

innovation value or goal, boss magazineMany business leaders identify innovation as a strategic concern, but struggle to take the first step in doing so successfully. In fact, a survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicated that Australia might be in the clutches of an innovation drought when it comes to creativity in business—less than half (42.2 per cent) of Australia’s 770,000 businesses engage in some form of innovative activity.

Whenever I engage with executives about innovation, the most passionate discussion concerns the role of corporate culture.

Many leaders have clearly heard the advice that they must support a work style that encourages innovative thinking and action. Too often we try to make this happen by simply declaring ourselves to be innovative in our statement of corporate values.

However, it takes a lot more than an executive memo to encourage new thinking. Cultural change is difficult, especially when a key measure of success includes accepting failure, critical to any transformative work. As a first step we must distinguish between innovation as a value and innovation as a goal.

Cultural Confusion

Very often I come across statements like this: “Innovation is the driving force of our team.” You wish.

Speak to the team members and they are just as likely to tell you that their company is stolidly conservative and agonisingly risk-adverse. Speak to the leadership team and they will tell you that of course we have an innovative culture—the teams just do not deliver enough innovation!

What’s going on in such cases? Typically, one finds that the corporate leaders really do want to see new work, but they have not backed up that wish with actions to encourage and reward the necessary risk-taking and frequent failures which lead to innovation.

This problem in turn frequently arises from a confusion between goals and values.

Goals and Values

Goals are often financial: even if not strictly monetary, they should at least measure them. “We create delightful new products” is a goal. A little tricky, perhaps, but we can measure it by counting products and tracking customers’ happiness with the result.

Values, on the other hand, can be somewhat intangible and, one hopes, grounded in ethical or philosophical convictions. “Make Others Great,” “Be Humble,” “Take Responsibility.” These fine corporate values are inherently difficult to measure: one cannot easily reduce them to dollars and cents.

Of course, we may really, really want to hold “innovation” as a value. In our corporate hearts we may long for new ideas to inform every discussion. However, you are not going to get there just by wishing it. First, you must make innovation a goal.

Own the Goal

You will not find innovation easy. It takes commitment and some courage—frequent failures characterise many a truly innovative project. A culture which truly encourages experimentation will, at some point, reward bold, imaginative efforts that don’t work out. Now, don’t get me wrong, please do reward the successful efforts also!

The important point is to have corporate goals that measure innovation effort. How many new projects? How many are genuinely experimental in that they investigate new lines of business, new technologies, or new services? How many of these projects succeeded and failed?

Create goals like these: established and funded and measured and reported on. Soon enough you will look back on them and recognise that innovation drives a regular heartbeat of your business. Having done so, when you see those goals spontaneously picked up and set in new ways at every level of your organisation, then you can reflect that indeed, you hold innovation as a core value.