company cultureInnovation is a word that gets thrown around a lot in today’s business landscape. It can mean a lot of different things in a variety of contexts. But the fact of the matter is if a company is going to innovate, they must first get the culture right.

Adam Bryant, who has interviewed more than 200 CEOs for his Corner Office feature in The New York Times, says the first step is harnessing the “whatever-it-takes collective spark of a start-up.” And this takes much more than putting a group of people in a garage with a couple of boxes of pizza.

In his just released title, Quick and Nimble; Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation, Bryant draws on his C-suite conversations to identify the biggest drivers of culture.  In addition, the book offers practical examples on how you can implement this advice at your company.

Here is a sampling of how to do this:

1. Give a simple plan

It is vital that corporate leaders empower their employees with a well-defined, simple sentence that explains where the company is going and how it is going to get there. Without this, different departments will develop their own agendas. Bryant warns that this is how siloes happen and how great companies are ultimately toppled. Setting strategic objectives every year gives everyone a clear way to contribute toward the organization’s broader goals.

2. Establish rules of the road

Another key to fostering a high performing culture is to implement corporate values. Bryant says companies that do this successfully see a religious like following of their ideals. The values should send clear signals about which behaviors are encouraged in the company and which are discouraged. Use these standards as guideposts for hiring and firing as well.

3. Show employees R-E-S-P-E-C-T

It is incredibly damaging when bosses humiliate employees in front of their colleagues. Bryant even found neuroscience studies showing this type of berating can cause scar tissue to build up in a person. In addition, berating employees puts them on the defensive and causes them to shut down. If you want people to bring their best selves to work everyday, treat them with respect.

4. Act like a grown-up

It’s easy for managers to get wimpy and avoid frank discussions with their employees. They tend to wait until annual employment reviews to have these adult conversations. At that point, months may have gone by. Make it a habit to give staff candid and honest feedback on a regular basis. This is a great way to unlock the kind of energy needed for an innovative culture.

Learn about getting the most from your employees with this free e-book.