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Published: October 25, 2011
 / Winter 2011 / Issue 65

 
 

The Global Innovation 1000: Why Culture Is Key

Booz & Company’s annual study shows that spending more on R&D won’t drive results. The most crucial factors are strategic alignment and a culture that supports innovation.

The elements that make up a truly innovative company are many: a focused innovation strategy, a winning overall business strategy, deep customer insight, great talent, and the right set of capabilities to achieve successful execution. More important than any of the individual elements, however, is the role played by corporate culture — the organization’s self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking, and believing — in tying them all together. Yet according to the results of this year’s Global Innovation 1000 study, only about half of all companies say their corporate culture robustly supports their innovation strategy. Moreover, about the same proportion say their innovation strategy is inadequately aligned with their overall corporate strategy.

The strategy+business Collection: Don’t Blame Your Culture

This article is featured in the strategy+business app “Don’t Blame Your Culture,” available for smartphone and tablet devices. The app pulls together s+b’s best writing on organizational culture and change, featuring Jon Katzenbach, TV chef Jamie Oliver, former P&G CEO A.G. Lafley, and more, explaining why companies resist wholesale change, and how to make the most of the culture you have.

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This disconnect, as the saying goes, is both a problem and an opportunity. Our data shows that companies with unsupportive cultures and poor strategic alignment significantly underperform their competitors. Moreover, most executives understand what’s at stake and what matters, even if their companies don’t always seem to get it right. Across the board, for example, respondents identified “superior product performance” and “superior product quality” as their top strategic goals. And they asserted that their two most important cultural attributes were “strong identification with the consumer/customer experience” and a “passion/pride in products.”

These assertions were confirmed by innovation executives we interviewed for the study. Fred Palensky, executive vice president of research and development and chief technology officer (CTO) at innovation leader 3M Company, for example, puts it this way: “Our goal is to include the voice of the customer at the basic research level and throughout the product development cycle, to enable our technical people to actually see how their technologies work in various market conditions.”

If more companies could gain traction in closing both the strategic alignment and culture gaps to better realize these goals and attributes, not only would their financial performance improve, but the data suggests that the potential gains might be large enough to improve the overall growth rate of the global economy.

To that end, we continue to emphasize the key finding that our Global Innovation 1000 study of the world’s biggest spenders on research and development has reaffirmed in each of the past seven years: There is no statistically significant relationship between financial performance and innovation spending, in terms of either total R&D dollars or R&D as a percentage of revenues. Many companies — notably, Apple — consistently underspend their peers on R&D investments while outperforming them on a broad range of measures of corporate success, such as revenue growth, profit growth, margins, and total shareholder return. Meanwhile, entire industries, such as pharmaceuticals, continue to devote relatively large shares of their resources to innovation, yet end up with much less to show for it than they — and their shareholders — might hope for.

Last year, we looked at the innovation capability sets companies put together, how they vary by innovation strategy, and which groups of capabilities can best enable companies to outperform their peers. This year, we took a different vantage point, analyzing the ways that critical organizational systems and cultural attributes support those capability sets that are most likely to promote innovation success. The results suggest that the ways R&D managers and corporate decision makers think about their new products and services — and how they feel about intangibles such as risk, creativity, openness, and collaboration — are critical for success. As part of this year’s study, we surveyed almost 600 innovation leaders in companies around the world, large and small, in every major industry sector. As noted, almost half of the companies reported inadequate strategic alignment and poor cultural support for their innovation strategies. Possibly even more surprising, nearly 20 percent of companies said they didn’t have a well-defined innovation strategy at all.

 
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Resources

  1. Soumitra Dutta, “The Global Innovation Index 2011: Accelerating Growth and Development,” INSEAD, 2011: A report on the conditions and qualities that allow innovation to thrive, and the role it can play in a nation’s economic and social development.
  2. Barry Jaruzelski and Kevin Dehoff, “The Global Innovation 1000: How the Top Innovators Keep Winning,” s+b, Winter 2010: Last year’s study showed how highly innovative companies outperform by focusing on critical capabilities and aligning them with their overall business strategy.
  3. Barry Jaruzelski and Kevin Dehoff, “The Customer Connection: The Global Innovation 1000,” s+b, Winter 2007: This study identified the three distinct innovation strategies: Need Seekers, Market Readers, and Technology Drivers.
  4. Barry Jaruzelski and Richard Holman, “Casting a Wide Net: Building the Capabilities for Open Innovation,” Ivey Business Journal, March/April 2011: Why many organizations are unable to make open innovation work, and what they need to do to succeed.
  5. Zia Khan and Jon Katzenbach, “Are You Killing Enough Ideas?s+b, Autumn 2009: How companies can improve their innovation performance by getting their formal and informal organizations in sync.
  6. Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi, The Essential Advantage: How to Win with a Capabilities-Driven Strategy (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011): How to construct a strategically coherent company in which the pieces reinforce one another instead of working at cross-purposes.
  7. Randall Stross, “The Auteur vs. the Committee,” New York Times, July 23, 2011: Why Apple’s leadership structure, with decisions reflecting the sensibility of Steve Jobs, is more conducive to innovation than the conventional approach of companies like Google.
  8. Booz & Company’s Product and Service Innovation practice.
  9. The 2011 Global Innovation 1000 Overview Video: Barry Jaruzelski and John Loehr discuss the results of the world’s largest corporate R&D spenders, focusing on the links between culture, organization, and innovation strategy — and their impact on financial performance.
  10. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at: www.strategy-business.com/innovation.

Online Innovation Strategy Profiler

For an assessment tool from Booz & Company designed to help evaluate your company’s R&D strategy and the capabilities required, visit: www.booz.com/innovation-profiler.