Why Your Company Doesn’t Innovate

Frankly put, your company doesn’t innovate because your workplace culture sucks. As a management consultant working with some of the best and worst companies in the world, I have discovered that the very system of community that holds a company together is left forgotten. The company probably gets more attention than the attitudes and behaviors of a large organization’s society.

Culture, much like innovation, is another word that gets thrown around with reckless abandon. We all want our company to have this evasive element that we call “culture,” but what, exactly, is culture? Culture is the collective and productive focus of the people that work in a business. I know that definition is painfully simple, but it’s accurate. This focus is elusive and is almost always undercut by how a particular business is run.

Culture is the collective and productive focus of the people that work in a business.

Bad Culture Components

If you survey almost any company, you’ll find that people are primarily concerned with three things that contribute to its culture – and not in a good way:

  1. Risk management
  2. Regulatory compliance
  3. Managing career pathways


These three employee preoccupations are not limited to individuals. They stem from the same institutionalized fear that plagues businesses and leaders.

Risk management produces overly protective behavior that offers no measurable gain. There’s no offensive advantage in acting defensively, a tendency you can see throughout the three concerns. Risk management functions as a necessary evil, but is only useful in maintaining the status quo. Imagine a football or baseball team that only played defense. They may never get scored on, but at the very best they would only tie. You could hardly consider this technique conducive to progress.

Regulatory compliance becomes a side of effect of risk management. We all have no choice but to follow the existing legal framework. Compromising your company’s good legal standing would be a very bad decision indeed. Being a slave to protocol does, however, become problematic when it creates unnecessary bottlenecks in idea formulation. Compliance with the rules does not mean giving up on a thought that at first draft presents a legal issue. Too many promising ideas are thrown away before coming into their own because the initial concept put the business at risk.

The most personal worry for individuals in the workplace is management of career paths. And with good reason. This is our future we’re talking about, after all. For many, career path worries transform the workplace into a chessboard. Every move becomes calculated – what projects we work on, what we say, who we befriend, and so on. You know what it looks like. Micromanaging a career path ends up distracting you from the task at hand and adding another layer of risk evasion to the mix.

Risk management, regulatory compliance, and anxiety over career paths are all bad culture components. From interns to the C-level suite, these elements often dominate a company’s culture. And that culture isn’t calibrated to turn employees into “Breakers”.

Sure, the focus is collective, but it’s certainly not productive. All individuals and their objectives within the business add up to a company’s final output. If executives, board members, and management spend more time mitigating risk than evolving the business, the rest of the people in the company will reflect this approach. You don’t need an MBA to assess the significant drawbacks this has for a company.

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