Research from professors at Columbia Business School and Duke University found that strong employee engagement is a hallmark of a positive company culture. As it turns out, a study commissioned by the UK government also shows higher engagement levels correlates with higher levels of innovation in companies. This indicates that it is possible to embed the principles of innovation into a corporate culture.

At its infancy, a business's creativity comes from its founders who started the company with a clear idea of the existing consumer need and their proposed solution. As an organization matures, the various individuals within it can contribute concepts that can turn a fledgling brand into a household name.  

At my company Amerisleep, we've invested in training programs to help our team members build their careers and enjoy their work with us. Additionally, we facilitate creativity and original thinking by providing online forums (such as our company-wide chatroom) and offline spaces (including our nap rooms and Dream Suites) where individuals can bounce around ideas and turn the most promising ones into meaningful solutions.

Of course, any business can foster innovation and integrate it into their organizational culture. Below are four ways we recommend.

Let leadership set the example.

You'll be most effective at building innovation into your culture if it evolves organically rather than through a series of mandates. One of the best ways to instill organic change is by imitation: Your employees will take cues from the leadership and incorporate similar values and styles into their own work.

Directives might cause people to modify their behavior, but leadership inspires them to feel empowered to make their own choices. When managers make decisions with innovation as a framing device, then their employees will follow their example.

Develop physical and digital environments that spur creativity.

Our environments have a tremendous effect on our brains, including how inspired we feel and how comfortable we are taking risks. There is some element of creativity and risk taking anytime you try to reinvent ideas or processes. So, it makes sense that you need to establish settings that facilitate these responses.

Curate environments where your team members are free to brainstorm and hold spontaneous meetings. Also, ensure they have access to digital tools and spaces that allow them to let their creativity unfold.

Make a habit of questioning established conventions.

The propensity to question established conventions is one of the most common traits found in highly-innovative people. It's essentially the basis for how many forward-thinking companies are founded: Someone looks at a traditional way of doing things and asks if there is a more effective or more efficient solution.

By regularly challenging the norm, you can experiment with different strategies to accomplish the same goal with fewer resources, in less time and with higher quality results. You may not always find the next best approach but occasionally you'll develop something that creates immense value for your organization.

Combine disruptive thinking with institutional knowledge and common sense.

Disruptive thinking is generally positive, but it shouldn't ignore the company's established base of institutional knowledge. Pair historical data alongside novel ideas to work your way towards more refined innovations.

Similarly, remember to frame new ideas in the context of common sense. Different concepts are great, but a true innovative culture always evaluates these prospects with a deep understanding of their customer, their industry and the company's core values.

Published on: Sep 17, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.