On August 20, I spoke on a panel about Creating a Culture of Innovation, as part of the Health:Further conference sponsored by Jumpstart Foundry. The panel members were asked to bring experience and insight to prove the following concepts: culture drives performance, a shared sense of values and meaning creates culture, and employee engagement yields high performance and innovative results. Below is a subset of the content articulating my experiences in the industry and the impact culture has had on the companies where I have worked.


1) Do you have stated values, and how do you close the gap between stated values and how employees actually behave? How do you ensure employees are aware of your values and what they mean?

  • Yes, we have stated values at InfoWorks, although they have become intrinsic to the culture and are more experienced than seen posted on a wall in the office. We have regular company meetings and at our most recent meeting, we had four employees talk on a panel about the meaning of our culture and values to each employee. In my previous experiences, the places where the values were on a card attached to badges were companies where employees were aware of the values and knew what they meant. In addition, employees who experienced their top leaders modeling the desired meaning of the values were places where employees learned the values by experience.
  • One example of a leader modeling the values was at Healthways. Ben Leedle would bring together more than a thousand employees annually for a face-to-face all employee meeting. The goal was to share the company vision and important company updates, while encouraging collaboration and time to strengthen relationships. The agenda each year included time allotted for a team exercise. One year, we collectively created a large mural, one table and one canvas at a time, in a paint by number type exercise. Each table of 10 only saw the 8 x10 canvas they were painting. Individually, it did not seem like we were doing much and it was hard to understand how it would be used. Collectively, we realized the impact the next day when we walked into the office. The collection of canvasses were mounted together in the lobby when we arrived and the result was a beautiful picture. It was so rewarding to see the collective impact we each had represented as a mural. My take away was that through the process of creating the mural, we all experienced many of our values in practice, including trust and collaboration.

2) As company leaders, how do you get your team to think about investing in culture and systems that can measure engagement and alignment with values?

  • I would recommend starting with explaining why creating a culture of innovation is important – what the future would feel like if it was different. For example, for CEOs of hospitals, explaining what if all employees, regardless of role, were patient experience ambassadors in the hospital and why that would matter to their end customer. Once employees understood the bigger picture of impact, leaders could gather facts and data about the percentage of turnover for various roles, and resulting cost. With a sense of the current impact, leaders could make a commitment to invest some of the savings in innovation projects if turnover decreased. Knowing that commitment would drive more engagement.
  • For those of you who know Cisco, the foundational value of the company is customer intimacy. John Chambers modeled the behavior of living the values by receiving information daily on any customer that had a priority 1 outage, meaning their infrastructure was down. John would call each customers personally to let them know he was aware of the outage and was receiving hourly updates. The employees at all levels knew this and remained engaged as a result, staying on top of client needs and delivering a higher level of service.

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