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Creating a culture of innovation at your chamber of commerce can be a legacy and help you radically change perceptions of your organization. But what does that entail, how do you do it and how does it help you better serve your members and community?

What Is a Chamber Culture of Innovation?

A chamber culture of innovation is a culture that supports and encourages the development of new ideas and approaches to serving chamber members and the community. This type of culture is characterized by a willingness to experiment, a commitment to continuous improvement, and a belief that new ideas are the key to staying ahead of the curve. It’s often attributed to Silicon Valley and the tech industry, but a culture of innovation means you’re always looking for new ways and opportunities to better the chamber and the value you provide your members.

Chambers that are innovative are better able to meet the changing needs of their members and to develop new programs and services that benefit the community. With chamber membership no longer being an “next step” post business opening, showing the value the chamber brings is essential to recruitment and retention.

Why Should You Create a Culture of Innovation at the Chamber?

Creating a culture of innovation is not something you can do overnight. There is no innovation switch. And you must be prepared to be met with a lot of resistance. But there are many benefits to creating a culture of innovation in a business, including:

Increased Competitiveness

Your member businesses know the importance of innovation and staying ahead of the competition. They have done a lot of pivoting over the past three years. The chamber’s competition is not likely another business but someone choosing not to join. By creating a culture of innovation, you’re giving members additional value and more reason to join.

Improved Member Satisfaction

Members are always looking for new and value. By being innovative, you can meet the changing needs of your members and help them with activities and resources they may not have access to on their own. By adopting a culture of innovation, you are also leading by example.

Increased Employee Engagement

Employees are more likely to be engaged and productive in a workplace that values innovation. When employees feel like they are encouraged to think outside the box and come up with new ideas, they will be motivated and invested in their work, not to mention feeling pride in the contributions they are making. They will feel like they are working toward the betterment of the community and that can make everyone feel good about their job.

Attracting and Retaining Top Talent

The best and brightest employees want to work for companies that are innovative. This can put your chamber at a hiring disadvantage if you have been doing things the same way since the 90s. By creating a culture of innovation, chambers can attract and retain top talent.

Increased Profitability

Innovation can lead to increased profitability in several ways. For example, you can develop new non-dues revenue streams by introducing new services. Additionally, you can improve existing resources and services to increase member satisfaction and loyalty. Innovation can also help you to reduce costs and operate more efficiently.

Leaving an Impact on the Community

Adopting a culture of innovation likely fits into achieving components of your strategic plan. You can leave a legacy in the community in several ways such as:

  • Creating new jobs and opportunities. When your chamber leads by example, you encourage businesses to think about innovation as well. Those businesses are more likely to look for ways to grow and expand. This can lead to the creation of new jobs and opportunities for people in the community.
  • ​Attracting new businesses and residents. A community that is known for its culture of innovation is more likely to attract new businesses and residents. This can boost the local economy and create a more vibrant and diverse community.
  • Improving the quality of life. Innovation can lead to new products and services that improve the quality of life for people in the community. For example, innovation in healthcare can lead to new treatments and cures for diseases. Innovation in education can lead to new teaching methods and technologies that help students learn more effectively and the schools will achieve higher ratings. Innovation in transportation can lead to new ways to get around that are more efficient and environmentally friendly.
  • ​Solving community problems. Innovation can be used to solve community problems such as poverty, crime, and pollution. For example, innovation in social services can lead to new programs that help people who are struggling to make ends meet. Innovation in law enforcement can lead to new ways to prevent and reduce crime. Innovation in environmental protection can lead to new ways to clean up pollution and protect the environment.

Becoming an Innovative Chamber

But where do you start? Do you wake up one day and say, we’re going to be an innovative chamber? Not exactly.

Here are a few tips and best practices for creating a culture of innovation in your chamber:

  • Set the tone from the top. The first step to creating a culture of innovation is to set the tone from the top. This means that the chamber President and the Board need to be committed to innovation. They need to create an environment where employees, volunteers, and members feel comfortable and encouraged to try new things. The chamber stakeholders should also see leadership taking on innovative thought processes and implementing and supporting innovation.
  • Encourage experimentation and risk-taking. Innovation requires experimentation and risk-taking. Chambers need to create an environment where employees and members feel comfortable trying new things, even if they fail.
  • Foster collaboration and idea sharing. Innovation often happens when people from different backgrounds and with different ideas come together. Chambers can foster collaboration and idea sharing by hosting events, creating online conversations, and providing other opportunities for members to connect. The chamber can also act as a bridge to bring the right people to the table in order to create valuable resources and solve problems in innovative ways.
  • Celebrate successes and learn from failures. It is important to celebrate innovative successes. This shows employees, volunteers, and members that innovation is valued and rewarded. It is also important to learn from failures. Part of innovation is analysis. You must track the data to understand the efficacy of your innovation.
  • ​Influence and educate about innovation. Provide opportunities for employees and members to learn about innovation. This could include hosting workshops, webinars, or inviting guest speakers to talk about innovation.
  • Fund it. Create an innovation budget. This will help to fund innovation initiatives and experiments. If you’re not willing to set aside a budget for it, creating a culture of innovation will sound like just a marketing campaign.
  • Plan it. Many people think innovation is all about being open to creative ideas. And it is. But you must do so wisely. Creating a culture of innovation doesn’t mean you throw out your strategic plan. In fact, the plan should help guide your innovation and the solutions you focus on.

Establish a process for evaluating and implementing new ideas. This will help to ensure that the chamber is investing in the right innovation initiatives.

Innovative Chamber Examples

Here are some examples of how chambers are innovating in areas that you’re likely working on too:

Workforce development: spotlighting manufacturing.

The Lake County Chamber has been hosting a student manufacturing expo for a decade now. Their Think Manufacturing Career Expo invites, parents, teachers, career counselors, and others to learn more about manufacturing companies that are hiring, hear from young people in the profession, and explore the opportunities in manufacturing.

Sustainability

The Tompkin County Chamber of Commerce partnered with the US Green Chamber of Commerce to create a manual of sustainability best practices as a resource for their member businesses.

Build the Reputation

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce went all in to build a reputation on innovation and created a Technology & Innovation Committee geared toward creating “a networking environment that adds value to committee members, the technology industry and business community,” being “a catalyst of the Greater Miami technology and innovation ecosystem through meetings, networking opportunities and specific initiatives, and providing programming that is relevant, interesting and informative to a diverse group of stakeholders.

How will you (or are you) innovating? Drop us a line and tell us what you have going on.

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