Faust: Initiate Innovation

Here are a few of the steps that my colleague and I take to jump-start profitability and productivity improvements. ( iStock )

Have you ever struggled with how to kick off efforts focused on improvement, innovation or turnaround? Most every business needs a significant kick in the pants, but how to begin is the hurdle every leader faces. Here are a few of the steps that my colleague and I take to jump-start profitability and productivity improvements. With good leadership support, results aren’t minor, but rather, they are often turnaround in nature.

Sanjay Puligadda is a tenured professor of marketing and innovation at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He has worked with companies of all sizes and that span generations to inspire practical and profitable innovations.


Recently, we began working on some research together to prove— with clear metrics—the impact that improvements in culture can have on innovation. We are measuring the pre- and post-cultural engagement levels with a validated online assessment— Puligadda’s ICAT diagnostic—to capture the quality of both the culture and processes and how they may support or hinder innovation.

Our kickoff session includes several tools you may want to try to facilitate within your own team. Design thinking is the new mantra, and most of these methods are housed in the principles of design thinking.  

The first tool may shock you. It’s improv! Puligadda is particularly adept at teaching the skill. Within minutes, teams are laughing and learning how to use this age-old tool of comedy in the workplace. And it has the added benefit of supercharging the culture and engagement levels of your workplace.

Our groups particularly enjoy empathy exercises that help to bring out understanding that is so important to innovation and design thinking.

Improv breaks the ice, but the values clarification exercise helps to congeal the culture and workplace environment. This helps the team to focus on and reinforce the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that support innovation. Humility, openness, encouragement and willingness to take risks are the types of values that need to be codified and reinforced.


Great innovation-oriented values will only last as long as the top leadership is walking the talk. A team will behave not based on the words it hears from the top but by the actions it sees. Thus, one of the most powerful tools for cultural transformation involves facilitating improvement and focus from the leader on just one leadership behavior that, if improved, would most impact the innovation culture and performance of the organization. This is based on Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholder Centered Coaching process, a scientifically validated methodology.

Finally, clarification of a specific set of innovation objectives, with accountability and follow-up, locks the process in place.

Then, after three months to four months, we take the second ICAT diagnostic survey and measure improvements in culture and performance. 

It’s not random, crazy exercises but goal-directed, case-specific interventions tailored to the specific needs of the organization. If you’re truly ready to turn around the ship, then use some of the tools above, or call in some experts. The levers to your next leap of growth are just waiting.