How to build a culture of innovation

More and more professionals are taking advantage of digital tools to monetise their hobbies, especially workers of the “wedge” generation, those who fall between the boomers and Gen Xers. These creative souls are exactly what businesses need to drive competitive advantage. Companies looking to capitalize on disruptive innovation need to shift management’s focus from maximizing returns on investment to maximizing returns on people.1

Ultimately, “every company’s identity—the body of capabilities and practices that distinguish it and make it effective—is grounded in the way people think and behave.”2 Under finance-obsessed management, creative people are distancing themselves (physically or emotionally) from larger companies in search of greater autonomy and purpose. To retain and attract these valuable employees, companies need to engage them in a quest for innovation—but how?

Branding at its best influences how every employee thinks and behaves. If a brand wants to position itself as a force of innovation, it needs to put innovation at the heart of its operations by engaging its workforce around values that support creativity and experimentation.

At Landor, we tell clients that innovation is more a process than a result and that to achieve innovation each and every employee needs to contribute creatively. Innovation is not just the responsibility of R&D, new product development, or marketing—it is the responsibility of all employees.

In A Whole New Mind, author Daniel Pink writes that we live in a “conceptual age,” an era when purely left-brain thinking is quickly becoming irrelevant.3 The rise of technology and outsourcing means that left-brained solutions are solved more quickly and less expensively by machines and outside contractors, giving way to a renaissance of creative problem solving.

The innovative spirit of the conceptual age is having a profound effect on existing jobs; the world is changing at such a pace that “in every company, in any category, every worker is going to be asked not to just do their job, but to reinvent or reengineer how their jobs can be done.”This shift will require companies to completely rethink how they engage employees. After all, employees are the brand advocates who will ultimately define and deliver the customer experience.

Internal brand engagement projects are always challenging and multilayered, but with these three steps, a brand can put the wheels in motion towards fostering a culture of innovation:

1. Align the purpose and beliefs of the business with those of your employees.

Creating a culture of innovation begins with engaging employees in an organisation’s purpose. Research shows that when employees feel a company’s beliefs mirror their own, turnover decreases and performance increases.5 Making employees an integral part of the brand’s purpose leads to higher engagement levels and more creative results.6

However, creating a compelling purpose that motivates employees is not easy. The company needs to play an active role. More and more, we are seeing brands begin initiatives to foster the link between company values and individual values. In Australia, Mi9 recently released its “people manifesto,” a 36-page declaration that challenges people to think about their personal beliefs before applying to work at the agency—and if your beliefs don’t match, then you won’t find the job appealing.

Part of the challenge in aligning employee attitudes with brand purpose is that many senior leaders are not effectively championing their values. Harvard professor Cynthia Montgomery says that she is always surprised by the number of CEOs who have wonderful things to say about other companies (like General Electric and Nike) but freeze up when they talk about their own companies, “revert[ing] to the same old generics that could apply to any old company…[saying] we will succeed because we’re the quality leaders, we’re the best in class, we have the lowest cost.”7

GE understands the effect the conceptual age has on its business. When GE proclaims that its brand idea is Imagination at work, people believe it. According to CMO Beth Comstock, GE, driven by its brand vision, has been implementing start-up practices like dynamic work teams for a few years now. In reaction to the changing landscape of roles and responsibilities, Comstock champions what she calls “figure-it-out jobs,” which she says will become “the building blocks for what will have to be figure-it-out careers.”8

According to Montgomery, the key to communicating your purpose is being able to answer the questions:

  • Why does your business really matter?
  • Why would the world need your business?
  • What would be different if it didn’t exist?

2. Demonstrate what brand purpose means to each of your employees.

Brand purpose needs to be meaningful for everyone. At its best, a well-articulated purpose should be every employee’s motivation for creativity and big-picture thinking.

When Landor works with companies on building their brand purpose, the first thing we do is help create a plan for getting employee support behind the changes. This begins by clearly explaining how the changes will benefit employees. Then a company must demonstrate how an employee is essential to its brand purpose. When employees understand their value to the company, the company will receive more commitment and creative output. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “If you want people to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Earlier this year, Landor worked with the publishing business News Corporation as it transitioned to becoming News Corp. The change is by no means purely cosmetic; chief executive Robert Thomson is quickly turning News Corp into a global powerhouse in content creation and distribution.

Such a sea change requires that every individual understands how his or her role will be transformed. In a letter from Thomson announcing the new company, he told staff, “Creativity is not the charge of the few, but the mission of all of us.”9 Thomson appreciates that for companies to be truly innovative in today’s fast-paced landscape, everyone in an organisation needs to be creative. As News Corp continues to transform as an organisation, it requires all employees to be invested in that charge and to understand their role and responsibilities in contributing to it.

3. Begin questioning everything the brand is doing.

Once a brand has its employees’ attention, the next step is evaluating how its existing processes line up with its purpose and beliefs. According to professor Clayton Christensen, companies fail when they do everything by the existing order. If companies really want to drive innovation through, they should make a significant commitment to reassessing existing paradigms.10

At Landor, we hold workshops with our clients to identity specific actions and behavioral changes a company can make to bring the brand purpose to life. We also ask for suggestions for improvements to a business’s processes. These ideas often have significant implications for a brand’s organisational design, but they are precisely what is required to create a culture focused on innovation. These changes can be anything from new ways of sharing ideas to incorporating a specific innovation key performance indicator into objectives.

Landor recently assisted Pernod Ricard Winemakers in unifying its multiple employer brands into a single global brand. In line with its newly identified business objectives, the company chose to introduce the tagline Leading wine innovation. It’s a big claim, but one the company is serious about.

To make sure that every employee was working towards innovation, Pernod Ricard Winemakers took a second look at all of its processes. It introduced international exchange programs to share winemaking expertise across markets, moved a Spanish office to an innovation hub, and created new positions to focus on innovation outside marketing. It also set up “blue-sky teams” to encourage cross-functional collaboration and developed an “ideas nursery” to foster creative suggestions from employees.

Following the brand change, the business continues to examine its processes to ensure employees are permitted maximum creative license. Recently, the company launched Think, a creative leadership training program for senior managers.

For a brand to turn itself into an innovation leader, it must motivate its talent by reevaluating its values and purpose. A company’s first priority should be communicating that purpose to its employees, as they are tasked with delivering it. When employees believe and understand their role in the brand’s vision—and feel that they too can shape it—a spirit of innovation will inspire them to contribute creatively.


  1. Clayton Christensen, “Disruptive innovation & the role of management” (lecture, Sydney, Australia, 6 November 2013).
  2. Jon Katzenbach and Ashley Harshak, “Stop blaming your culture,”Strategy+Business (19 January 2011),
  3. Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind (Berkeley Publishing Group, 2005).
  4. Thomas Friedman, “What’s required to rebuild a once-strong brand,” in The Edge: 50 Tips from Brands that Lead  by Allen Adamson (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
  5. Susan Sorenson, “How employee engagement drives growth,” Gallup Business Journal (20 June 2013),
  6. Sam Glucksberg, “The influence of strength of drive on functional fixedness and perceptual recognition,” Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63 (1962).
  7. Ken Favaro and Art Kleiner, “The thought leader interview: Cynthia Montgomery,” Strategy+Business (26 February 2013),
  8. Beth Comstock, “Figure it out,” Harvard Business Review  (May 2013),
  9. Georg Szalai, “News Corp unveils post-split logo based on Rupert Murdoch’s handwriting,” Hollywood Reporter  (28 May 2013),
  10. Clayton Christensen, The Innovator’s Solution (Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2003).


A version of this article was first published in B&T as “Creating a culture of innovation” (13 December 2013).

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