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07 Nov. 2018 | Comments (0)

At the upcoming Innovation Master Class, taking place in Palo Alto December 6-7, 2018, Alex Goryachev, Cisco System’s Director, Innovation Strategy and Programs, will be speaking on How Cisco Builds an Enterprise-Wide Culture of Innovation

Goryachev shared with me the most common mistakes he has seen at companies working to build a culture of innovation. The key concept tying together Goryachev’s observations: the need to focus on the people innovating, not the “innovations” themselves.


Mistake #1: Focusing on the innovation instead of the innovator.

“This is one of the largest mistakes I see repeated across organizations,” Goryachev noted.  

“Companies often fail to recognize that innovation is really more about cultivating talent, providing resources, and transforming the culture than it is about technology solutions and outcomes themselves. This might sound contrarian, but while creating new products or technology is great, it’s even more important to remember we are nothing without people who can fathom the big ideas and transform them into impactful, real-life solutions.

"We need to focus on the innovator – not the innovation.”

Alex Goryachev, Cisco


Mistake #2: Failing to make transformational innovation a company-wide program.

“Companies that don’t transform their entire culture companywide will not survive today’s digital revolution,” Goryachev argues. “It takes a disruptive shock to turn everyday employees into entrepreneurial-like innovators. Anyone in any function can be the sparkplug for a companywide innovation transformation, but it can’t be done without the strong support of leaders.

"You can’t just mandate innovation or expect it to happen because of a new mission statement. Innovation mindsets and attitudes must be continuously woven into the everyday fabric of a business – it needs to be a living, breathing part of an organization’s culture that starts at the top and cascades to each and every employee.”


Mistake #3: Trying to build innovation programs on their own.

Closely related to the observation above, Goryachev notes that a company-wide transformation is not possible when an innovation programs is isolated.

“Often times," he says, "large companies will categorize innovation into a specific business unit. It’s important that businesses not silo their efforts. True innovation requires opening up opportunities by empowering cross-functional collaboration—encouraging employees from all ranks, roles, departments and experience levels to team up, disrupt, and co-develop their most passionate ideas.

"As I like to say, innovation is better together.  We emphasize this throughout the organization with myriad co-development programs, events, spaces, funds, and other opportunities to foster an environment of innovative thinking. For example, at Cisco we have My Innovation and its always-on Hub portal, featuring more than 30 different programs where employees can engage, including thingQbator maker spaces, hackathons, recognition and reward entries, and our flagship Innovate Everywhere Challenge.”


Mistake #4: Forgetting the power in diversity.

“Diversify your team,” Goryachev emphasizes.  “A team of only engineers won’t know how to bring their product to market. A team of marketers will overpromise the deliverable. You need different perspectives and skill sets—and the environment to empower and enrich them—to come up with the most innovative solutions.

"Very rarely do the best ideas arise when everyone hails from the same department, industry or even socioeconomic background. Innovation is a team sport of players with different roles and skill sets. If you are serious about creating a culture of innovation, encourage inclusion, diversity, and collaboration, whether that means gender, ethnicity, cultural or socio-economic backgrounds, education levels, or ages. You’ll need to transparently communicate across your organization that everyone is welcome to share their ideas and tap into their inner entrepreneur.”

Innovation-related Research at The Conference Board

Over the past two decades, The Conference Board has researched multiple aspects of innovation at the company and country levels. Areas of research have spanned from intangible assets to technology, digital transformation, productivity, branding and marketing, sustainability, the culture of innovation, diversity and inclusion, and profits and revenues.This example also has multiple lines.

Signposts of Innovation draws insights from experts in those research fields.

Click here to visit the Innovation and Productivity Institute


Mistake #5: Not providing significant incentives to innovate.

“The need to inspire and incentivize your employees to join your innovation programs,” Goryachev observes, “is one of the most prevalent, yet most important, challenges to innovation.” To empower and encourage a diverse group of employees, he says, organizations must “establish significant recognition and rewards programs to incentivize employee participation.”

This could include “cash bonuses, sabbatical time to “incubate” their ideas, job rotations and recognition by leaders in companywide meetings and publicity. Employee recognition—no matter how small—goes a long way.”


Mistake #6: Not being transparent with employees.

Goryachev sees the power of purpose in innovation, and urges that a sense of connection to mission be built through transparency:

“More employees, especially millennials, want to feel connected, valued and heard in their workplace. That means not only providing opportunities for them to connect with their colleagues, but also connecting them with the organization’s broader strategy. And, with just 40% of millennials feeling strongly connected to their company’s mission, this is a challenge that must be addressed sooner rather than later.

"The answer lies in transparency—candidly communicating both the good and bad, successes and failures. Listen to employees by conducting surveys on what they think about the company’s innovation efforts, communicate the results and actions to address key issues they raised. Share key metrics after projects are implemented, highlight lessons learned and best practices, and keep stakeholders updated on your innovation progress.”


Mistake #7: Treating innovation like a one-and-done event.

“Lastly,” Goryachev says, “innovation should not be treated like a petting zoo, where you visit it briefly one or two times and then leave.  We must instill innovation throughout the culture, consistently and constantly. It should be embedded into every aspect of your corporate strategy and culture.

"No one wants to work for a company that doesn’t appear to be continuously innovating and evolving — that is a recipe for extinction. Along with internal/external programs, communities, promotions and maker spaces, ignite ongoing dialog and discussions among employees, managers and executives.”

Hear from Alex Goryachev and from innovators at Salesforce, Google, Microsoft, Xerox, DowDupont, Lowe’s and more at the next Innovation Master Class, taking place December 6-7, 2018 in Palo Alto, with curated Silicon Valley site visits in a pre-conference tour December 5.
  • About the Author:Joan Greco

    Joan Greco

    Joan Greco is the program director of The Conference Board Innovation Master Class, the Customer Experience Conference, and the Women's Leadership Conference, and has served as program director for ot…

    Full Bio | More from Joan Greco


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