Everyone talks about innovation, but how many companies can prove they are truly innovative? What distinguishes one company from another? It is more than just size, leadership, or technology; the culture you create and reinforce every day will drive innovative behavior, which delivers results. Individual leaders can either catapult your innovation and success or bring it to a grinding halt.

Having worked alongside some of the most prolific innovators at Xbox, Amazon, and BMW as well as start-ups with explosive growth, I realized that those who are fantastic at innovation are often oblivious about their key to success. I developed this Innovation Inventory Measurement to allow leaders to assess how innovative their company is.

Read the following 24 statements and see how many you can say a wholehearted yes to:

  1. We create freedom to play and experiment.
  2. Innovation is linked to our long-term business goals.
  3. If there is a good idea, we rapidly fund it with people and dollars.
  4. We are quick to sunset failing projects gracefully.
  5. We recognize speed is sometimes more important than perfection.
  6. New ideas flow between functions, locations, and seniority.
  7. The majority of our energy is spent on customers, products, and profits, not internal drama.
  8. We incorporate the voice of youth in our product strategy and community outreach.
  9. We encourage meeting-free days and create freedom and space to think.
  10. We don't care where you work or how you work as long as you deliver your results and act within the company values.
  11. Our pivotal leaders have strong personal followings.
  12. We take time to learn from successes and failures without blame.
  13. We are candid and transparent in our communication to customers and employees.
  14. Our employee and industry communication is inspiring and innovative.
  15. It is okay to challenge our status quo, regardless of hierarchy.
  16. Our communication to our customers raises eyebrows, grabs attention, and makes an impact.
  17. We regularly listen to our top people and hear personal stories of how they would like the workplace to improve, and then we take action.
  18. We assess for innovation ability when we hire.
  19. We have alternative approaches to acquiring expertise and talent.
  20. We have a robust personal referral program that delivers high-quality candidate referrals.
  21. We personally develop our employees in creative and unique ways.
  22. Our egos do not prevent us from seeking expert help; even the most successful leaders seek ways to further accelerate their success.
  23. We reward behaviors and attempts at innovation, not just success.
  24. We reward against company, team, and individual achievements in that order.

When I was part of the Xbox leadership team, we had to radically innovate to break into new markets and turn around a loss-making division. We proved innovation was possible, even within a corporate giant that wasn't known for groundbreaking innovation. The result was the Kinect camera that allowed you to control your Xbox with your voice and your hands and sold over 20 million devices.

I now use these questions with my clients to help catapult innovation at fast-growing companies. These 24 keys can unlock innovation in your company too. Which could you improve on today?

Published on: Apr 30, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.