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How to Cultivate a Culture of Innovation

Photo by Caitlin Fairchild

On Sept. 6, I had the opportunity to deliver a keynote entitled “Leading Innovation” at Excellence in Government Live. Reflecting on my 24 year career with DoD, I’m always awed by the new opportunities in the federal landscape thanks to the enabling power of new technology and innovative tools—tools that we literally hold in our hands. When you think about government, innovation and leadership, it’s a different world today than it was even just a few years ago.

Each of us has the opportunity to embrace the future—but we must first enable it. We have to step up and into positions, deciding intentionally to make a difference. At the Defense Department, we’re working each day to integrate strategy, policies, processes and information technology. We’re streamlining and improving our business operations in support of national security, all while becoming more innovative and forward thinking.

If I were to identify four key things that are pivotal in cultivating a culture of innovation, I’d offer these:

1. Strategic Organizational Alignment Delivers Results. Identify the business outcomes you want to achieve and then determine how your organization is structured to do that.

2. Defining Clear Roles and Responsibilities Contributes to Accountability. Everyone has a contribution to make. It is important to understand what contributions people make and to align them to the outcome you want to achieve.

3. Measure Your Progress. Track progress. You have alignment to strategy, you’ve articulated roles and responsibilities, and the only way to know if you are achieving them is to measure them in some way.

4. Stepping Up to Lead is Critical to Affect Change. If you are in a position where you can make a difference, you have the opportunity and responsibility to lead. 

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Ms. Elizabeth (Beth) A. McGrath was sworn in as the Department’s first Deputy Chief Management Officer, a Senate-confirmed and politically appointed position, on July 1, 2010. Ms. McGrath leads the Department’s efforts to better synchronize, integrate and coordinate DoD business operations and serves as the Principal Staff Assistant (PSA) and advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense for matters relating to management and improvement of business operations. She also serves as the DoD Performance Improvement Officer and is responsible for formulating the legislatively mandated Departmental Strategic Management Plan.

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