Chief Human Resources Officer

Marathon Oil's Director of Talent Management on Building an Innovative Culture

Sarah Smith, Director of Talent Management, Marathon Oil Corporation, discussed how an organization can develop a culture of innovation during her keynote address to Argyle’s CHRO membership at the 2017 Human Capital Forum: Employee Experience in the Digital Era in San Francisco on March 22. In her presentation, “Building an Innovative Culture – It’s More About Engaging the People Than Finding the Technology!” Smith explained how her organization revamped its culture and transformed its day-to-day operations.

According to Smith, innovation has varying definitions. However, when it comes to using innovation to drive the employee experience, people are paramount.

“It’s all about the people,” Smith said. “The industry and the market may be different. But the challenges are all the same.”

Organizations do not require state-of-the-art technologies to build a culture of innovation. Instead, an organization may be able to revamp an existing culture to foster innovation and engagement among employees.

“[Innovation] doesn’t have to be about new technologies,” Smith stated. “It can be about reinventing what you already have.”

Ultimately, building a culture of innovation requires give and take among employees and managers. It involves giving employees an opportunity to share their thoughts and views about an organization and ensuring their voices are heard at all times.

“It’s all about how you create a culture that encourages people to recognize that every idea counts,” Smith noted.

Smith also pointed out that fostering a culture of engagement involves three levers:

1. Performance

Many organizations conduct annual performance reviews, but these assessments are insufficient.

“[Innovation] doesn’t have to be about new technologies. It can be about reinventing what you already have.”

Today, organizations must understand how an organization stacks up against its rivals at all times. To accomplish this goal, an organization must drive innovation, or it may miss out on opportunities to differentiate itself from the competition.

“We looked at ourselves externally and how the market saw us, and we looked at ourselves internally and in terms of our competitors,” Smith indicated. “We were middle of the pack … but do you want to be average?”

Two-way conversations between employees and managers can deliver long-lasting results for organizations of all sizes. These conversations allow employees to provide ideas and opinions in an open forum. In addition, the conversations allow managers to understand the employee perspective and gain business insights that they may struggle to obtain elsewhere.

“When we label people with performance, it gets really tricky,” Smith stated. “We know [two-way feedback] is something we need. … And we started to be all about conversations.”

2. Leadership

A culture of innovation fosters leadership at all levels and across all departments.

Business leaders should connect with employees and embrace opportunities to learn from them. By doing so, leaders can build trust with employees and provide workers with the support they need to get the best results possible.

“[Leaders] know they’re people. They can talk about their people. They’re using the right behavioral language to talk about what they used to see [in employees], how they coached them and what they are seeing in employees right now,” Smith said.

Moreover, an organization must establish a clear-cut definition of leadership.

With a leadership definition in place, an organization can refine its mission and ensure employees are committed to helping this organization accomplish its immediate and long-term goals.

“We needed to expectation to our business as to what leadership looked like,” Smith said. “You need to set clear expectations [for leadership].”

3. Engagement

Employee engagement happens every day, yet many business leaders fail to make the most of their interactions with workers.

“Managers and employees are moving so quickly and being asked to do so much. We need to look at what are the things that we can take off of them through technology.”

Personalization can play an important role in employee engagement. If leaders learn about employees, they will be able to provide personalized interactions that drives loyalty throughout an organization.

“It’s about having an interaction with my employees and being able to individualize the experience for them every day,” Smith indicated.

Engagement frequently goes beyond traditional employee meetings as well.

Leaders who understand employees will be better equipped than others to provide workers with the support they need, when they need it. Furthermore, leaders can analyze the pulse of an organization and find new ways to help workers accomplish their career goals.

A culture of innovation starts at the top and works its way through all departments. If leaders drive innovation, they will be able to provide an outstanding employee experience day after day. As a result, employees will feel engaged, which may help an organization bolster its productivity and efficiency, increase its earnings and much more.

“We were a culture of engineers who attended meetings and were part of an experience,” Smith noted. “If you set expectations for the behaviors that you want from an organization, you need to keep those going.”

Visit Argyle Executive Forum's Argyle Digital: FutureWork - Navigating the Future of Work Post-COVID 19 Agenda in Digital Forum, on Jun 11, 2020

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