How to Create Clarity of Purpose in an Innovative Environment

Innovation is sometimes at odds with what many managers want, which is to improve the efficiency with which current processes operate.

Group of co-workers discussing a project.
Innovation takes a different approach than finding efficiency improvements.

While innovation can and should improve efficiency, it often steps outside “how it’s done” to develop new ways of thinking and doing. When a company or other organization has a clear purpose, it’s easier to accept innovation. In other words, when you know what purpose the organization serves, it’s easier to recognize when innovation is a better solution than just improving efficiency.

How do you encourage innovation without going off on tangents and losing sight of purpose? The answer lies in making sure everyone understands the organization’s purpose, balancing autonomy and accountability, and creating an environment in which a strong, positive culture can thrive. In short, it requires innovative management.

How to Clarify Purpose

To clarify purpose, you must first understand what purpose is and not get it mixed up with mission and vision. Purpose is why your organization exists. Can you articulate why your organization exists in a clear and succinct way? For example, if your organization is a hospital, your purpose is to help people be healthier. Your mission is about what you’ll do to fulfill that purpose, and your vision is how you envision the world in which your purpose is fulfilled. Other steps toward clarifying your purpose include:

  • Clearly identifying your current market
  • Asking what change your organization can create in the world
  • Defining the reference point that links you and your customers (which some people think of as “brand”)
  • Defining organizational values
  • Developing a clear message to explain why your organization exists

Balancing Autonomy and Accountability

Innovation will not happen in organizations where people don’t have autonomy. Yet it can feel risky to trust people to come up with ideas, because those ideas may clash with how things are currently done. Therefore, it’s important that current ways of doing things aren’t laden with managers’ egos, and that everyone understands why innovation is often preferable to fine-tuning efficiency.

Woman at her desk using her phone.
It’s hard to innovate when you repeatedly bump up against rigid managerial structures.

At the same time, unfettered autonomy can lead to lack of cohesion and communication, drifting away from purpose, laziness, inefficiency, and lack of progress. The trick is to create “guardrails” that keep everyone on track while assuring them that they are free to innovate. Balancing autonomy and accountability require the following:

  • Clarity of purpose – so everyone knows the reason your organization exists
  • Agility of structure – so innovating doesn’t require navigating a thicket of corporate hierarchy just to get ideas heard
  • Development and attention to culture – so people know they are valued, know it’s okay to take calculated risks, and are proud to represent the organization

Laying the Foundation for an Innovative Culture

Making the deliberate effort to build strong culture based on purpose is like creating a productive garden. You have to know why you’re building the garden (to grow food or perhaps to beautify an area), till the soil, and otherwise create excellent growing conditions, and then tend it regularly to get rid of weeds and pests so that the plants can grow optimally.

Likewise, knowing your organization’s purpose, creating conditions for excellence, and then regularly monitoring and tending progress and correcting course when necessary will ensure that your innovation efforts bear fruit.

Put simply, innovation requires innovative management. Old, rigid hierarchies and bureaucratic management structures tend not to create conditions for innovation. Innovative management, which is agile, encourages autonomy and regularly communicates purpose, creating conditions that encourage and reward innovation. IdeaScale understands that, similarly to growing delicious produce in a garden, innovation requires a healthy culture and structure in which it can grow. We invite you to get the Innovation Starter Kit to learn how to create that culture and structure within your organization.

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