5 key principles for a culture of innovation that lasts
By John DeFord, EVP & Chief Technology Officer
It’s hard to overstate how much innovation matters at BD. Every day, associates apply themselves to developing better solutions with tangible and substantial impacts for patients, for clinicians, for researchers, for healthcare. When we look at the work we do, we envision the billions of people helped by BD products—people just like our children, our parents, our communities and us. Throughout the late 19th, the entire 20th and now part of the 21st century, it’s been our honor to have helped reshape the possibilities of care and our very understanding of disease—from revolutionizing blood collection, to leading in sterilized single-use plastics, to pioneering the field of flow cytometry that’s enabled researchers to make breakthrough discoveries. Today, we work to fulfill the great responsibility of advancing the world of health™ through developing the world-class solutions at the forefront of helping to reduce the burden of chronic disease, enable new care settings and expand access to care.
What’s the secret to keeping innovation alive after nearly 125 years? Here are some common cultural elements that have helped us consistently be recognized by organizations like Clarivate as one the most innovative companies in the world:
- Break down barriers. Proposing a truly new way of solving something—especially if it contradicts current thinking—can be intimidating enough to stop someone from raising their hand. When you create an inclusive environment where all associates feel safe, people feel freer to take the risk of sharing ideas, big and small. In fact, research by Kieu-Trang Nguyen out of Northwestern shows that trust emboldens innovation, even leading to a higher quality of patent filings.1 Providing resources and education can also go a long way to creating a more inclusive environment where junior associates and those not in traditional R&D roles also feel empowered to put forward their ideas. At BD, we offer a full program of courses designed to help associates broaden and deepen their skillsets, as well as mentoring programs for one-on-one development, master coaching events and associate resource groups.
Megan Scherich, Senior R&D Engineer at BD and 2020 Howe Innovation Award winner, shares her take on how BD is fostering a culture of innovation.
- Lead with humility. Rather than a corner office, BD founders Maxwell Becton and Fairleigh Dickinson sat beside their associates. Famously, the only privacy they had was the ability to lock their roll-top desk. Their humble, hands-on approach and camaraderie with associates was passed down to their sons and other future CEOs—all of whom have risen through the company—who continued to transform the company into the 21st century. Today, servant leadership is a pillar of our values, applying to every associate, starting with our CEO and President, Tom Polen.
- Have a roadmap and a compass. When we invest more than 1 billion dollars in innovation annually, we prioritize in places where we can have the greatest impact on patient care that fit our growth strategy and align to our purpose. That compass also helps guide which employee pitches are selected for funding through our Innovation Fund, balancing incremental and blue-sky innovation against company goals and impact. Use your growth strategy to guide how to prioritize and execute ideas to ensure the best ones bubble up without stretching the company too thin—which sabotages project success. Detailed project proposals help define goals, the approvals process and thresholds for greenlighting a project helps to test and refine them. Then, continuously reevaluate goals and reprioritize projects. Product design phase gates or Agile Sprints allow for plenty of opportunity to reassess program success and evolve where needed.
- Make innovation fun but flexible. A company that’s willing to set aside time for innovation sends a strong signal of trust, allowing employees to apply their efforts in areas that they’re excited about to best serve the company and their goals. Google and Facebook notoriously offer time during the week for associates to work on passion projects. We have Recharge Wednesdays, when employees can focus on whatever they choose, from creative problem solving to fulfilling necessary tasks that could impede progress on projects. We also offer incubator opportunities, multidisciplinary hackathon-style events and freedom to explore cutting edge technologies, so there’s always something engaging on the horizon to keep associates inspired.
- Reward work done well. Without smart, dedicated people, we’d have no innovation. We reward associates throughout the year with internal awards for innovation and commercial excellence. Our teams and associates are also often are recognized with industry awards for excellence in innovation and product design, including recent honors from the Society of Women Engineers and Frost & Sullivan.
- Never settle. A company is organic. Each leader sets the tone and expectations for the culture, but associates embody it. You must continuously cultivate an innovation mindset. If that mindset is not engaging and accessible over time, employees will not find it inspiring, and even a culture that started off as a place where innovation could thrive will eventually weaken.
These seemingly obvious elements of good corporate culture often remain elusive because they’re not necessarily easy to establish and maintain over time. But with hard work and dedication you can foster a healthy culture that encourages innovation to thrive. Like everything else in innovation, by continuously ideating, applying best practices and learnings, and iterating with these principles in mind, you may find the best balance for cultivating an innovation culture in your team or company.
1 Want Your Employees to Innovate? Trust Them. https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/trust-innovation-leaders-ceo-risk-taking. JUN 1, 2020. Accessed 3/1/2021