Unlock a Culture of Innovation at Your Organization in 2023

employees sitting around a table to unlock a Culture of Innovation

Building a culture of innovation from the ground-up can feel like climbing Mt. Everest in a swimsuit with no guide. Are you a one-person army, expected to deliver the next iPhone with a budget that’s smaller than your salary to test new ideas?

What’s worse, have you ever put 6 – 8 months of work into conducting a successful pilot with a ton of potential to transform the business just to have it die on the vine once you hand it off to a department to fully integrate into their operations?

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. It’s one of the primary reasons that only 6% of executives are satisfied with their innovation performance according to a 2017 study by McKinsey.

Why Building a Culture of Innovation is So Hard

Innovation is often focused on longer-term projects that take more than one year to realize a return on investment where department goals are based on quarterly or annual performance.

We need to partner with departments to pilot new solutions and ultimately to get them integrated into operations. But, if our solutions aren’t helping the leaders of those departments achieve their annual goals that lead to their next bonus or promotion, we’ll always simply be seen as another thing to do. This means you’ll constantly be fighting an uphill battle, implement fewer projects, and eventually burn out. 

We’ve been building innovation cultures in the trenches with our customers for the last decade. What we’ve learned is that the only way to make a culture of innovation stick is by incorporating innovation KPI’s into annual goals for all roles in the organization, from the customer service representative to the CEO. Of course, that’s easy to say but near impossible to do when your program is brand new with no track record of success, so how do we get from where we are today to our desired end state?

Introducing The Walk, Run, Scale Framework

If you walk straight into your CEO’s office and pitch integrating innovation KPI’s into every team member’s annual goals, you’ll most likely run into the common phrase “Our culture isn’t ready to do something like that yet.” Unfortunately, if you don’t get started somewhere the culture will never be ready. 

After seeing this conversation hundreds of times, we created an unconventional, but proven system called the “Walk, Run, Scale Framework.” This framework provides a step-by-step process that helps you build a culture of innovation, even if you don’t have the budget, skills, or other resources you might think you need to be successful.

Instead of pitching innovation KPI’s at the onset of your program, start small with innovation events and then use the outcomes of those events as “enablers” to begin justifying the inclusion of innovation KPI’s into annual goals.

Here’s a high-level overview of the steps in the Walk, Run, Scale framework –

  1. Start small with a time based event like an Innovation Challenge, Hackathon, or Shark Tank that is focused on a theme related to a primary organizational goal. Set the expectation up front that every project needs an Executive Sponsor to move forward.
  2. Run your event and focus on getting a high participation rate. Ask employees to project the value that their idea will provide in dollars and cents, even if it’s just a rough estimate.
  3. The high participation rate and projected value will get leadership excited. This is what we call an “Enabling Event.” Use this excitement to begin pitching your vision of including innovation KPI’s in annual reviews.
  4. Even if you’re expected to build the next iPhone, focus at least half of your effort on ideas that are low complexity and easy to implement. As long as you’re demonstrating value you’ll maximize the chances of keeping your current funding or expanding it.
  5. Rinse and repeat this process until you have enough buy-in from leadership to incorporate innovation KPI’s into one or a few department’s annual goals, eventually expanding this practice organization-wide.
Primary GoalProjected ValueActual ValueDisruptive Value
IncentiveNonePartially Integrated into Performance ReviewsFully Integrated into Performance Reviews
Roles IncentivizedNoneManagers and AboveAll Staff
FormatTime-Based EventsContinuousContinuous
BudgetAd HocDedicated (Time)Dedicated (Dollars + Time)
Project FocusLow Complexity  Short Timeline to ROIModerate Complexity Short Timeline to ROIHigh Complexity  Long Timeline to ROI


If your goal is to build a culture of innovation in your organization, you’ll constantly be climbing an uphill battle until you are able to start getting innovation KPI’s integrated into annual goals. The Walk, Run, Scale Framework meets you wherever you are today in your innovation journey and helps you take the right next steps towards gaining the buy-in you need.

Over the last 10 years, this model is the most effective way we’ve found to create a thriving culture of innovation that sticks. Although the process can take 1 – 2 years to really gain traction, by following these steps you should start to feel the results in the first 4 – 6 months.


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