Minnesota’s vibrant tech community was on full display last week at the annual gathering of our largest industry group, The Minnesota High Tech Association. Aside from the regular technical demos and VR experiences one would expect at a conference for IT leaders, there was a common theme woven throughout this year’s agenda: In order for organizations to navigate through the significant digital transformation already impacting every industry, they’ll first need a culture that can support, foster and drive new levels of innovation.

I thought this was so interesting. As a communication consultant for B2B and tech companies, it’s easy to sometimes get distracted by exciting, whiz-bang, tech news-of-the-day hyperbole. Headline-capturing topics like artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning and new levels of automation are certainly fun to talk about – and these technologies are obviously creating massive shifts in how companies operate and bring products or solutions to market. However, as leaders from some of Minnesota’s crown jewel companies explained, it’s one thing to have a bleeding-edge tech solution in place, but the greater opportunity is to step back and assess what sort of innovation a company wants or can support in the first place. 

“Companies can’t have innovation without strong cultures, first,” explained Elliot Savoie, who leads a transformation and innovation group at Cargill. “Culture can be tied to business performance and drives employee engagement as well as customer engagement.” Culture, in other words, drives everything, and it must be willing to adapt to new technologies or be willing to push the envelope to introduce something novel. With companies constantly fighting for the best talent, having a strong culture can be the ultimate competitive advantage to drive innovation.  

The notion sounds simple, of course, but it’s a powerful concept for tech leaders who are continually challenged to innovate no matter what. Before that can happen, an organization must look within to understand or shape their own unique culture and employee needs. It can be one that aligns on risk, innovation, employees, customers or even data. Once an organization has that cultural context defined, navigating (or leading) significant technological change will follow. 

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