5 steps to build an innovative culture that drives growth

Dag Andreas Olsen

Business expert

19 Dec 2022

Want to create an amazing place to work that delivers long-term, sustainable profitability? Then get the culture right.

I’ve helped build lots of firms and each has had different strategic and tactical needs.

I’ve set up factories for some firms in far flung places, and convinced others step out of their comfort zones to send profits soaring (and, in one case, I helped keep my fellow citizens alive…)

But there’s one thing these all firms had in common: cultures that drive success.

So, whether you’re starting a company from scratch, or trying to change and improve what you’ve got, here’s how to create an innovative and amazing place to work.

1. Care about culture. A lot.

Why should you care about culture?

Off the top of my head, here’s quick list of some of the things a positive company culture achieves. It:

  • builds trust and engagement with staff
  • makes it easier to recruit and to keep them
  • means colleagues will deliver higher-quality work
  • nurtures work relationships that, among other things, foster innovation
  • drives higher productivity and happier customers

These are all things that will drive sustainable, long-term profits for your firms.

And – just as importantly – they make work a place you want to go and a thing you want to do every day.

The culture you create is what will shape your brand in the eyes of your clients and customers. It will determine the quality of the products and services you create, how customers interact with you through your marketing, as well as their experience of dealing with you directly.

That is why you should care about culture.

Metaphor alert! Here are some tall, bright sunflowers to symbolise having an innovative, amazing workplace. We hope you like them.

2. Practise company karma

We’ll get into more detail about the practical steps you can take to create the right company culture, shortly.

But if you take just one piece of advice (and one single word!) from me and ignore all the others, then here it is:


You need to build a culture of looking after individuals, whether that means caring about your employees, being active in the local community, or really wanting to deliver on the promises you make to your customers.

This is company karma.

There is nothing cosmic, ethereal, or spiritual about this. It’s deeply practical.

If you take shortcuts or mistreat people, it will come back to bite you. Do the right thing and you will be rewarded.

3. Start with the right questions

The first step in developing the right company culture is to work out what matters to you.

Start by taking the vision and mission of your company – i.e. what you want to change about the world and how you’re going to do it – and then ask two questions:

  1. what is the ideal environment for delivering this vision and mission?
  2. how do we create that environment?

You can apply these questions to any organisation. For example, consider the time I started a girls’ football team in my hometown.

There was no other opportunity for my daughters to play, so I set a team up for 8-year-old girls from scratch to give them that opportunity.

From the start we said the club would be all about inclusivity. We said anyone could come. It didn’t matter how good they were. It was all about community and making friends.

As the girls grew older that culture created an amazing team ethos. We built a place where everyone looked after everyone else. Everyone got their time on the pitch, and everyone did their time on the bench.

And we got better. Much better! By the time they were 18, these girls had not only won the local league, they’d also been runners-up in the biggest tournament in Europe.

But the culture never changed because that was what got us there in the first place.

Most of the work has already been done for you

Desi, Smpl’s culture guru

4. Find the right answers (Part 1)

The questions above about your cultural environment might seem big, scary questions, but happily most of the work to find the secret to creating an innovative and amazing place to work has been done for you.

Lots of people have looked very closely at successful firms and what they’ve done to create thriving cultures in the modern age (they’ll often reference everything from Zappos shoes and Nordstrom clothes, to Whole Foods groceries and Starbucks, if you want any case studies).

Let’s start by answering the first question above – ‘what is the ideal environment for delivering this vision and mission‘ – using all of that collected wisdom, as well as my own experience…

Q: So… What is the environment we need to create to deliver our vision and mission?

A: That environment will be determined by the values and norms you decide will actively guide the way your company operates. Common values I see time and again these days include:

  • Prioritising transparency in decision-making: if you help everyone understand why things are happening, they’ll engage more (feeling out of the loop is frustrating and demotivating)
  • Focusing on purpose: helping staff understand how the work they do is aligned with the company’s greater purpose (beyond boosting the bottom line) will make them more fulfilled and more driven
  • Making staff feel safe and supported: they’ll give you increased dedication and performance in return
  • Enabling people to just be themselves: if staff feel they can demonstrate their strong sense of self, they forge stronger connections within their teams

Find the right answers (Part 2)

Moving on to Question 2:

Q: How do we create that environment?

A: There are lots of ways of doing these things, but here are some core activities you should consider:

  • Instil modern leadership: this means practising authority with one eye always on empathy, transparency, and trustworthiness
  • Communicate like crazy: leaders need to communicate openly and with compassion all the time, and listen, learn and act on what they hear back (one way to do this is with regular ‘check ins’ where you listen to employees and address their questions)
  • Reward people properly and fairly: we all want to be financially secure without undue economic stress or worry, and we want the same opportunities to get ahead
  • Develop skills: your teams need to be the best they can be to make your business thrive (and everyone wants market-able, in-demand capabilities and skills to obtain good jobs and advance in a career). Try not to worry about them leaving if you give them this; they’re more likely to leave if you don’t
  • Give them the right tools/tech to do their jobs: at a foundational level this means access to the cloud and a reliable internet connection to ensure everyone is connected and collaborating. N.B. try to avoid ‘the right tools’ just becoming ‘more tools’
  • Create proper flexible working: this isn’t just about where people work, it’s about what they do, when and how. Flexibility is about the tools they have, the autonomy they’re given to make decisions, the schedules that match their responsibilities, and more

Good luck on your cultural journey. And drop me a line if you want any pointers. Happy to help!

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