Law / Life

The Intangible Force behind Innovation

by Sophie Tversky

When we think of innovation, we primarily think of technology. This is unsurprising as new technologies are improving both internal and external legal processes and services. However, the adoption of technology is dependent on organisational cultures that facilitate change. For Millennials, organisational culture is a key driver in their choice of workplace; they see collaboration and innovation as ways to belong and contribute to organisational purpose.[1] Environments that bring together all generations in the workplace will be the ones that thrive.


Organisational Culture and Innovation?

Organisational culture is considered the “glue that holds the organisation together”.[2] It plays a central part in driving workplace behaviours and sets the tone for innovative practices.

The broadening of the legal industry into a buyer’s market brings with it increased competition. That said, innovation remains dependent on human capital.

One barrier to organisational change is fear or adhering to the status quo. However, shifting attention to “the people in the process”[3] and creating incentives for innovation, can assist in creating dynamic cultures.

Law firms and professional service providers are already adopting programs such as corporate hackathons, innovation committees and client-oriented interactions to initiate new products and services. While resource allocation is important, success depends on the extent which organisations adopt a growth and learning mentality. This mindset is fundamental to adopting new technologies and fuelling creativity.

Accordingly, innovation should be:

  • Expressly stated as a value or purpose;
  • clearly articulated in management strategy; and
  • a learning process that involves trial and error.[4]

This builds resilience and trust, and encourages risk-taking.[5]

Diversity of experience drives critical thinking, decreases silos and promotes organisational connectivity.

Millennials and Beyond

By 2020, Millennials will comprise 20 per cent of the international workforce.[6] Organisations are now grappling with the challenges of a four-generation workplace. These challenges include breakdowns in intergenerational communication, often fuelled by stereotypes and misunderstandings.  Let’s stop talking about stereotypes such as Millennials and smashed avocados, and Baby Boomers being technologically challenged! These detract from the fundamental driver of successful organisations – people – and the ability to harness their individual talents.

Gen Z (born 1995-2014) will soon be entering the workforce. Given the rate of technological change, it will be necessary for organisations to have strategic processes in place that are flexible enough to accommodate the emergence of Gen Z.

One way to achieve this is through mentoring – which breaks down hierarchical and generational barriers.

Organisational culture is a key element of innovation. Investing in human capital and fostering a healthy appetite for experimentation, creating collaborative platforms and fostering inter-generational and interdisciplinary communication, will be vital to the advancement of an organisation’s vision and, ultimately, its competitive edge. This can occur when individual strengths are utilised across all levels of the corporate hierarchy. However, this is dependent on an environment that nurtures and rewards new ways of thinking as an integral part of the organisation, not solely as a side project.

Take home messages:

  • Organisational culture that fosters creativity and collaboration is crucial for innovation.
  • Think about the breadth of your experiences and how they can add value to an organisation.
  • Be open minded, ask questions and adopt a growth mindset.

[1] Christie Smith and Stephanie Turner, Deloitte University The Leadership Center for Inclusion: The millennial majority is transforming your culture (2016), 2-5.  .

[2] D Denison, ‘Organisational culture: Can it be a key lever for driving organisational change?’ in C.L. Cooper, S. Cartwright & P.C. Earley (eds) The international handbook of organizational culture and climate (John Wiley & Sons, 2001), 347.

[3] Teresa M. Moon, ‘Mentoring the Next Generation for Innovation in Today’s Organization’ (2014) 5(1) Journal of Strategic Leadership 23, 24.

[4] Ellen Martins and Nico Martins, ‘An Organisational Culture Model To Promote Creativity and Innovation’ (2002) 28(4) SA Journal of Industrial Psychology 58, 61-63.

[5] Ibid, 62.

[6] PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Millennials at work Reshaping the workplace Report (2011), 3 <>.