How to build a culture of innovation through L&D

While an innovation culture can look different from company to company, certain traits tend to stand out. There should be no surprise that the companies leading the innovation culture charge are unafraid to take risks, create diverse environments where employees can personalize their learning, and are role models for the rest of the company in terms of their approach to learning and development (L&D).

Oli Garner from has highlighted some of the best practices for building a culture of innovation through L&D at your organization.

Create a safe space
Innovation happens when employees feel free to take risks without repercussions. Focusing on employees’ individual strengths has been key to creating a culture of innovation. Focusing on strengths creates trust; it creates a safe space to try something and possibly fail, have a conversation about it, and move forward. For many organizations, innovation is a byproduct of their culture that prioritizes relationship-building and trust between employees and managers over learning hard skills.

Hand-in-hand with creating an environment where risks can happen without repercussion, encouraging idea-sharing between colleagues on all levels of the organization will also propel innovation. The takeaway? Create programs that allow employees to cultivate their individual strengths while building relationships with others on the team. Where there’s support, there’s innovation – and trust needs to exist between team members for innovation to flourish.

Keep your L&D function agile
An agile L&D program is the key to supporting innovation, especially when your company is comprised of a large multinational workforce. L&D teams must be built upon a flexible framework and remain nimble, adjusting to continuous organizational changes without compromising either the speed or quality of talent development strategies. An overly-planned L&D program is less likely to adapt with any changes in business strategy, so don’t be afraid to stray from your schedule when business needs shift. This also means that for innovation to occur, your program needs to tailor itself to the individualized present (and future) need of employees.

Experiment (and then recalibrate)
Innovation comes from risk-taking. But since there are so many effective mediums and methods to deliver learning in 2019, it’s important to think outside the box and beyond traditional learning – and to never be afraid of re-calibrating based on results. According to the 2019 L&D Benchmarking Survey, employee engagement and risk-taking go hand in hand, with 77% of organizations with highly engaged employees ‘very willing’ to take risks.

However, it is also worth remembering that not every risk works. It’s vital to carry out evaluations and continuously monitor feedback in order to produce and develop the most innovation-driving programs.

Evaluation and re-calibration are at the heart of world-leading innovation initiatives. Through surveys, focus groups, or other evaluations, it’s crucial to determine which programs work, which can be optimized, and which should be scrapped. Even more critical, however, is that you cultivate a working environment where employees can question current processes without repercussion. In a space where there’s mutual trust, reflection can grow into innovation.

Embrace diversity
Research shows that companies with diverse and inclusive workforces are more innovative and profitable – and increasing inclusivity isn’t something that needs to be relegated to your company’s talent management or D&I functions. L&D teams should create or offer initiatives themselves. “We’ve had people from over 25 different countries developing our content,” says Martin Hayter, the Global Assurance Learning Leader for EY. “The team has a global flavor to it. It brings more creativity and higher quality and we know that the content we develop is going to be applicable to different cultures, and to both emerging and mature markets.” The research is clear: the more diverse your team, the stronger your culture of innovation will be.

Look beyond your organization
To inspire a culture of innovation, look outside your company walls for guidance. Other companies and teams likely have excellent insights that you can apply to your own programs. In order for your L&D team to create a culture of learning for your organization, your team itself must also be constantly learning.
Participating in industry L&D or HR award programs is another way to get insights on your strategy and programs, and it’s one approach EY has used to benchmark themselves. Their L&D team also works with external vendors to ensure they’re incorporating the best practices in the industry. An innovative, forward-thinking L&D team is one way to spark progress across the entire organization.

Make the connection between L&D and innovation explicit
You could plan great L&D initiatives and hope that it sparks innovation company-wide, or you could be even more proactive. Planning programming around the concept of innovation might include a speaker series with innovators in your industry, a course on design thinking, or hack-a-thons where employees get to take a step back from their daily duties and focus on what could be improved at the company.

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