Even 100-Year-Old Organizations Can Embrace Innovation

February 27, 2023 Jamie Notter

This is the third post in a new series of case studies that showcase several different ways in which we have worked with a client to solve a particular presenting culture issue.  

100-year-old Organization Leverages Culture To Master Innovation


This organization was strong, but they had hit a point in their history where they were not responding quickly enough to opportunities in their industry as they emerged. They ran the WorkXO culture assessment, and once they saw the patterns, they figured out what changes to make in order to get better at innovation. Here’s how it worked:

  • Their culture assessment showed they were not valuing the practices of innovation, and they struggled with fixing things that were broken and stopping things that were no longer providing value.
  • They made specific changes in their processes to address both agility and innovation, like revamping their project evaluation process to include more data and creating a new process for sharing new ideas across the silos.
  • Now they are moving faster and implementing new ideas more regularly, and seeing improved results.

“Before engaging PROPEL to help us learn how to shape our culture in success-driving ways, I thought of our organizational culture as a product of our success.  Now, I understand that our success is, in fact, a product of our culture.”  —  SVP, Technology


As a result of running the WorkXO Culture Assessment, an internal culture team was able to uncover key patterns in the organization’s approach to both change and innovation that illuminated important bottlenecks and contradictions, and out of that they developed specific changes in both process and technology that would help them change faster and unlock new value for their members.

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Within their culture data, it stood out that both the Culture Markers of Agility and Innovation were outliers on the ‘traditionalist’ side of the continuum, compared to the rest of their culture. Within Agility, two Building Blocks were the most traditional: eliminating activity that was not moving them towards their goal, and the overall ability to embrace change. In traditional management, change is something that must be managed carefully and slowly to prevent any critical disruptions, but the culture team realized that their organization had no need for such caution—there was a disconnect between the way their culture was operating and what would make them successful in today’s environment.

On the Innovation side, they noticed that there was no shortage of inspiration and creativity in their culture—both of those Building Blocks had futurist scores, indicating they were very present in the current culture. But the Building Blocks that were focused on the more active side of innovation—moving past the “we’ve always done it that way” excuse and running beta tests or developing prototypes—were much more traditional. In other words, their culture could “talk the talk” of innovation, but was not as strong at “walking the walk.” Furthermore, the only action-oriented part of the Innovation culture marker that was strongly present was about “permission to hack.” In other words, their culture could support innovation, but more easily within individual departments or workstreams.

And that clearly wasn’t cutting it. While they were proud of their 100-year history, they also recognized that their particularly industry was a hotbed of change right now, not to mention the fact that (like many other organizations) they were dealing with a major generational shift in how their new Millennial members were expecting to engage and participate in the association’s activities. Given that context, they recognized the need to change their current approach of innovating within silos and taking forever to stop things that weren’t working.

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So we helped them develop some plays for their Culture Playbook to address the issue. Their first draft of plays contained more than 50 different interventions designed to move their culture in directions that would support greater success, and several of the plays targeted the issues of Agility and Innovation specifically. For example, to break out of the pattern of innovating within silos, they proposed the implementation of idea generation software that would allow people from any department to suggest areas for change and innovation. They also suggested a thorough revision of their project evaluation process to bring in more external viewpoints and objective data into the process, rather than it relying on internal program staff assessments, which tended to favor the “we’ve always done it that way” approach.

In fact, the play around data-driven decision making made it into the initial round of 10 plays that the internal culture team recommended to management. The organization is now in the midst of implementing the plays, and their leadership describes the outcome of this work as a “valuable framework for success.”

More information about how PROPEL can help you solve real business problems by aligning culture with success:

Culture Assessment – https://propelnow.co/culture-assessment/

Culture Design Consulting – https://propelnow.co/culture-design/

Culture Change Coaching – https://propelnow.co/coaching/

Contact us – https://propelnow.co/contact-us/

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.