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How Can I Create a Culture that will Encourage Flexibility and Innovation?

Surviving in today’s world of change requires a culture that encourages innovation. As a manager, you need to develop a "possibility mindset." What does that mean in terms of specific behaviors? You have to demonstrate a willingness to hear out employees’ ideas and be an initiator yourself, looking for opportunities for positive change.

When people bring their suggestions to you, you need to offer constructive feedback in a supportive and caring manner. Coach them to think critically and to identify and address shortcomings in ideas they may have. Work with them to rid potentially good ideas of weaknesses.

Encourage creative thinking by setting up ground rules for meetings and brainstorming sessions. Establish guidelines to delay judgment and evaluation until after the idea-generation portion has ended. To ensure that these meetings are effective, hold training to teach your team the types of behaviors most effective for stimulating new ideas.

Add reminders via signs or posters on walls and desks that you and the department are open to new ideas—rosy possibilities—and want to serve as their coach in identifying these possibilities, not their critic.

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Any effort to change corporate culture won’t be completed overnight. Most experts agree that you should expect to work months and sometimes years. The larger and more physically dispersed your organization, the longer it will take to change. The older and more experienced your management team, the longer it will take to change—and the more necessary it may be to change.

No matter how you want to change your organization’s culture, you should provide a clear picture of what you want the culture to be. How great is the gap between what the culture is now and what it needs to be? What do you want your employees to believe? What norms should be guiding your employees’ behavior in the future?

Through words and deeds, communicate that picture to your employees. Become the champion for the new culture. Demonstrate by your own behaviors how important this culture-change business is.

If you have an opportunity to hire an employee during the effort to change the culture and climate of your operation, recruit people who believe in and advocate your vision. It’s easy to teach skills, but tough to teach new values, so recruit values. Don’t terminate defenders of the status quo unless you have no other option. If so, let them go. Demonstrate to your staff that employees either can be part of the future or a remnant of history. Give resisters every opportunity to change. If they won’t, ease them out of your organization.