It seems that every employer wants an innovative company culture, eager to create demand and capture the hearts of candidates and employees.

But what many employers don’t realize is that the process of innovation is sparked by friction. In other words: For a company to be innovative, their company culture must celebrate conflict — which few employers know how to do. 

If you want to embrace a company culture that truly inspires innovation, follow these tips:

Analyze your existing culture

Not every company needs to innovate, nor should it. So the first step is to think long and hard before deciding if you want to commit. Innovation is like thought leadership; thought leaders assert strong opinions, go out on a limb and tell people that everything they know is wrong, which is a courageous position to take. Shaking up the status quo isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. 

For companies that do want to create a culture of innovation, there will be more challenging questions ahead. Innovation involves disruption, so assess your company culture with the end goal in mind. Begin by taking stock of your existing culture: learn how it operates, identify the barriers and explore the alignment between values and reality. 

Do you recognize moments of failure, or only the successes? Are there gaps between teams and departments? Is there cohesion across the organization? Talk to your employees as well as your candidates to get a better sense of what’s happening. 

Challenge the status quo 

Once you understand how your culture works, you’ll need to dig in even deeper. That means asking (and answering) a key question: If we weren’t doing things this way, how would we do them? 

Company culture must celebrate conflict — which few employers know how to do.

This may sound relatively innocuous, until you realize that someone owns any process you want to change. You might be dealing with multiple stakeholders who agonized for months to implement a new system or solution, many of whom may still be working within the company. And now you want to dismantle their creation in favor of putting in something shiny and new? There’s your conflict. 

If you want to activate your people, inspire talent and get employees to bring their best ideas forward, you’ll need to enact these kinds of changes. This friction creates the spark that leads to innovative thinking. 

Start to think of your culture as a meritocracy. This may be threatening to workers who fear criticism, but hard questions often come with hard answers. Getting employees to step outside their comfort zone is the only way to light the fire and push for improvement.

Get comfortable with discomfort 

Creating a culture of innovation and talent requires getting comfortable with discomfort. That doesn’t mean building a toxic workplace culture. On the contrary: It means giving your team the tools and resources needed to audit, refine and test new ideas, and encouraging differences of opinion and diversity of thought. 

Dropping the pretense of perfection will instill confidence in workers.

The best company cultures empower employees to grow, even though that might be a little messy at times. Dropping the pretense of perfection will instill confidence in workers, and giving everyone a voice will enable them to share their opinions and disagree gracefully. Much of the responsibility for this sort of cultural shift falls to leaders and managers, who must act as the arbiters of conflict and ensure that discourse remains civil and productive.

In summary

Nothing about creating an innovative company culture is easy, and not many companies do things this way. But the sky’s the limit for those who choose to carve out time to understand and appreciate their culture; take proactive steps to improve what exists today; and offer talent the freedom to disagree, ideate and create something new. Innovation comes from everywhere — if you allow it.


William Tincup is the President of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.