Jo Geraghty


Are boards just not recognising their role in creating a culture of innovation?

Date added: 29th Mar 2019
Category: Innovation Culture

A recent paper from The Harvard Business School asks, “if everyone knows innovation is critical for success then why do board members not rank it highly in their list of priorities?” In fact, the report goes on to say that they also don’t feel that technology and innovation are things that they do well. In fact, they are dismissing technology on an ongoing basis, when asked what skills they look for in new board members very few listed technology experience in their list of requirements and innovation/change management or culture were not given a mention.

Technology and innovation are drivers of digital transformation.  This does not bode well for the digital transformation projects that we expect businesses to put in place in the coming months and years. Without the right culture these projects will be doomed to failure. A lack of technology experience and innovative culture also leaves businesses open to disruption. While board members may have experience of the markets that they operate in disruption can often come from outside the industry where innovation has accelerated to such an extent that it becomes a valid challenger across more than its own market. This all means that if creating the right culture for innovation and technology to succeed isn’t something that’s being discussed in the boardroom, then it’s not surprising that there is such a gap between the culture we want, and the one we actually have.

How can you overcome the gap and create a board that embraces the cultural change necessary for digital transformation?

Given the value of a clear and distinct culture, what can we do to bridge that cultural and knowledge gap? First and foremost, senior leaders need to be visible in the business and in doing so, personifying and being a role model of the desired culture. Research by James Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, which forms the basis of The Leadership Challenge , found that credibility is the foundation of Leadership, which is why ‘Modelling the Way’ is one of the 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. You can’t ask your people to behave in a way that is congruent with your articulated culture when you as a leader do something different. After all, people will follow what you do not what you say – words are cheap; actions count!

Finding out if the leadership team are emotionally and intellectually engaged

When working with leadership teams in designing a future organisational culture, as part of our 6 stage programme, we’ll complete an exercise to establish whether the team, both individually and collectively, are intellectually and emotionally engaged and committed to the culture they are designing. This is so critical, as any slight disconnect will be obvious and immediately places the achievement of your desired culture in doubt.

Regulation and our book outlines the importance of getting this right

This is something that we dive into in Chapter 3 of our book, ‘Building a Culture of Innovation – a practical framework for placing innovation at the core of your business’, but is also emphasised in the preface to the UK Code on Corporate Governance by the Financial Reporting Council. It’s hard to overstate the importance of getting the right tone set from the very top of the organisation.

Don’t disregard mis-alignment of the leadership team with change and culture

A survey from the CIPD found that just 1 in 5 leaders regard themselves as ‘purposeful leaders’. There are many reasons for this; age, diversity, experience. It’s a misalignment that is all too often brushed under the carpet, no doubt in part because the difficulty such conversations represent. If you’re taking a seat around the top table however, you have a moral and ethical obligation to either be aligned with the culture equipped with the required knowledge, or make way for someone who does. For those that do break through this challenge, leadership teams reap the benefits in tapping into the extra performance and results potential benefiting customers, staff, the organisation and wider community.


To learn more about a culture that really will support your digital transformation and how to embed that culture in your business by aligning your board.

Get the book: Building a Culture of Innovation here

Get in touch: Culture Consultancy here

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