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Building an Innovation Culture


If you want the best practices you must have the best beliefs. Beliefs are imbedded in cultures and culture always wins.

To what degree is your credit union culture aligned to your organization’s aspirations?

When Mark Weber opened the Strum Executive Innovation Summit in Seattle, he asked the credit union executives in attendance if their organizations’ culture matched their brand aspirations and if it was authentic. We then heard from Microsoft and how that global empire was able to shift its culture to align with a new empathetic and emotionally-driven brand. From this case study and hundreds like it, it’s abundantly clear that culture drives results. How it gets applied however, is wildly different.

To help the attendees get their minds around what he describes as an “Innovation Culture,” Garrick Throckmorton, Chief Services Officer, TeamTelligent, shared his perspective and experience having played key roles in internal development at major organizations, including Allegacy Federal Credit Union.

Garrick Throckmorton

Garrick Throckmorton

He reminded us that innovation is a powerful word and it likely conjures up mental images of innovative products and services that have changed our lives, such as the internet, the iPhone or even Uber. It may also elicit feelings that range from excitement to even stress and fear. How should an organization approach innovation? What does success look like? What will happen if we fail? If we succeed, how will we sustain innovation over time?

These are the questions that are naturally occurring, albeit quietly, that leaders grapple with across all industries, especially in the financial services category. Executives at these organizations are busy working on flashy ideas, cutting-edge technology, new payment innovations, etc. and it’s difficult to find the time to carve out for an internal culture assessment to determine if it is congruent with driving and sustaining innovation.

Throckmorton distilled cultural innovation down to three key traits and shared them with the group:

  • Have a growth mindset (vs. a fixed mindset): innovative organizations place a priority focus on employee development, support learning moments, and exhibit a positive and optimistic view of the ROI of people

  • Be flexible (vs. control): innovative organizations are flexible and agile. They allow decisions to be made at the level closest to the problem at hand, and appropriately empower their employees to take risks.

  • Have an external orientation (vs. internal orientation): innovative organizations encourage their employees to spend time, energy and effort to look outside the four walls of their organization to promote new insights, connections, and broad perspectives that spark creativity.

He closed his session with a cultural mantra that professionals like Throckmorton subscribe to and that is… beliefs drive behaviors, behaviors drive results. He challenged the audience by asking “what does your organization believe in”? And, “how would you rate your organization on the above three innovation traits”? Answers from the group were limited, suggesting that many in the room needed to return to their companies and formally perform a culture assessment.

Our next and final post from the Strum Executive Innovation Summit captures the presentation from Chi-Dooh “Skip” Li, Principal, ELM Founder, at Agros International.

— John Mathes, Director of Brand Strategy