Is Your Corporate Group Ready to Innovate for Digital Transformation?

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Zoom, the web conferencing service, has seen its stock soar to a market cap of 136 billion USD in 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing millions around the world to remain at home, the 9-year-old platform has proven invaluable not only for virtual meetings and classroom lessons but also for happy hours, costume parties, church services, brunches, book clubs, and romantic dates.

As people were celebrating Eric Yuan as the founder and CEO of Zoom, very few realized that he was the Corporate Vice President of Engineering at Cisco before founding Zoom. It is quite possible that Cisco could have developed the Zoom concept under the umbrella of its internal innovation. Coincidentally, Snowflake, the famous cloud data platform, which thousands of organizations rely on to power their data strategies and deliver their industry-leading products and services, was also developed by technical leaders of a MNC, Oracle. The truth is, two of the three founders of Snowflake, Benoit Dageville and Thierry Cruanes, previously worked as data architects at Oracle Corporation.

This attests to the fact that founders of many great corporations have previously worked in other great corporations before starting their own businesses. Taking a view from another perspective, we can draw a conclusion: if a corporation can find a way to effectively use internal innovation to stimulate the creativity of its employees, it can propel innovative ideas and business models within the organization.

It’s all about cultivating a digital transformation culture and intrapreneurship

“If I had asked the public what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” — Henry Ford, Founder of Ford Motor Company. In many cases, people are not able to switch to another angle and view the questions beyond the current situation. This also happens in many corporations, even some large MNCs.

Businesses that have digitally matured innovate at a much faster pace compared with less mature organizations. The reason for this may lie in the fact that digitally mature businesses are able to successfully cultivate an innovation culture within their organizations and have the resources needed to sustain that process.

The innovation ability within an organization and the culture which fosters it are the answers to increasing business competitiveness. Corporations that are digitally maturing are willing to devote significant amounts of time to encouraging their employees to innovate and become pioneers in digital transformation.

According to a survey that involved thousands of managers across many corporate groups of various scales, eighty-six percent of respondents from digitally mature businesses say the activities related to exploration and innovation consume 10 percent or more of their time at work, which is quite a considerable amount of their working time.

Tenable innovation methodologies should aim to build a sustainable digital innovation ecosystem in which all employees develop and update their innovation activities and abilities. Encourage your employees to establish and maintain contacts with the outside world, entice them to partake in useful conferences, summits, casual meetings, hackathons. The more experience with tech startups they get, the more they will be able to define new patterns in digital innovation.

Nurturing your internal talents creates an atmosphere of creativity and empowerment in which workers are respected and driven to achieve results in the digital field. Using the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) management on the path to digital transformation allows all employees to move together toward the same goal. Google, Spotify, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Airbnb are all great examples of how to successfully drive digital transformation using the OKR system.

Here is an example of using OKR to drive goals in the digital field in relation to internal innovation.

Objective:

Strengthening your innovation culture

Key results to achieve:

– Rolling out a continuous two-way feedback loop via weekly surveys

– Planning a monthly workshop and involving at least 60% of the employees

– Creating & launching a new mentorship program by the end of Q3

Developing an intrapreneurship culture is also one of the main factors in achieving goals in the digital field. Encourage your team to contribute to that process. People in your corporate group have the vision, ambition, enthusiasm, and bravery to innovate your business for free, helping you avoid huge strategic consultancy bills. Allowing your intrapreneurship network to share its accomplishments outside your company, while giving them internal exposure at the same time, will make your group’s intrapreneurship spirit more sustainable. Also, remember to foster an army of team members and employees who will follow and participate in your intrapreneurs’ work; intrapreneurs will leave some day, and you’ll need someone to continue their work. This is the key to maintaining the culture of intrapreneurship within the organization.

 A good practice in leading MNCs: Partnering with their own employees

 Leaders of digitally maturing companies believe that their organizations have the power to adapt and expand their capabilities according to the changes caused by digital disruption while others see the disruption as being a result of market forces they cannot control.

“Sanofi China has launched an Innovation Hub in 2018 to inspire and deliver innovation within Sanofi. The Innovation Hub is a testing ground for new ideas including new ways of working,” says Marie CHAVANON, Head of Innovation at Sanofi. The innovation hub has implemented agile squads to significantly level up the speed and the quality of delivery. There’s also an open innovation platform created to identify external partnership opportunities and test new concepts.

Talents are also a crucial element in cultivating intrapreneurship and digital success. In iHub, Sanofi China is looking for very diverse profiles of talents from different industries, and is especially looking for those who are more digitally advanced. This helps increase vitality of the whole team, as well as advance digital culture.

Marie also recently shared with us one of their internal programs which aims to promote a much more user experience-centric approach. Sanofi China held a 9-day Hackathon in 3 different sessions, during which more than 50 employees were trained to build clickable prototypes of mini-program ideas. They worked hand-in-hand with user experience coaches, and more than half of the ideas that were developed have been taken forward. These Hackathons proved a very efficient way to build patient-centric solutions while growing our team’s digital capabilities.

Many MNCs that are at the forefront of digital transformation are also leveraging internal innovation in an attempt to stay ahead of competition. In Intel China, a program called Ideas2Reality (I2R) has been initiated to encourage employees to submit their ideas on an online platform. Good ideas will later be vetted, incubated, and accelerated using resources funded by Intel China. This I2R program leverages the talents internally, within the company, by inspiring intrapreneurship in them. A wall of fame is being created in Intel China to celebrate the contribution of those innovators. Nominated innovators also have the opportunity to meet and network with Intel’s top leaders from around the globe.

Founded in a garage with a simple concept, Google has taken innovation to a new level.

“My job at Google is really to work with a talented community of innovation evangelists to build a culture where all people can pursue innovative ideas despite the innovative risks.” — Dr. Frederik G. Pferdt, Chief Innovation Evangelist at Google, shared the secrets behind Google’s innovation model with the public.

Dr. Frederik G. Pferdt repeatedly mentioned the importance of creating psychological safety in the workplace. To build comfort around failure in a collaborative environment, Pferdt encourages everyone on the team to share a failure and what they learned from it at the Monday weekly meeting. The celebration of failure creates an environment where employees are willing to take risks and are able to make a comeback even when the product turns out to be unsuccessful.

Innovation is a team effort. The collaborative environment can not only be found in Google’s open offices where informal gathering places replaced traditional office dividers, but also in Google’s culture centered around “mission, transparency, voice and space.” Dr. Frederik G. Pferdt pointed out that the first step of innovation is to come up with a mission—something big, inspirational, which serves society for the better—so that people feel inspired and challenged at work.

On the other hand, transparency fosters trust in the sense that everybody feels and believes they are working on the right thing. At Google’s weekly TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) meetings, the manager shares information about what happened in the company in the past week, including OKRs shared at the board meeting. Everybody is expected to use the information wisely and set a specific goal around innovation, both for themselves and on the team level.

Dr. Frederik G. Pferdt also values giving everyone in the company a voice through technology and challenges. “Fixits” is a 24-hour event where employees come together and focus on solving a specific problem. The hackathon generates ideas and creativity among individuals while creating a cohesive culture.

To stay at the forefront of innovation, Google encourages everyone to be agile in the ever-changing industry and keep up with the digital era. “Be prototype-driven,” said Dr. Frederik G. Pferdt, “innovation is really about having a user focus, respecting the user, and thinking about radically new ideas.”

Conclusion

If the corporation’s target is to be at the forefront of innovation and become a digitally mature company, it is essential for that corporation to efficiently tap the potential of its internal employees. Setting the mindset of innovation from the bottom up in your corporation is the key factor in cultivating a digital culture.

Employees who are close to real business are ideally suited to be innovation pioneers in the company because they understand business pain points better than other employees and they know how to come up with effective solutions. A corporation that stimulates internal innovation is a place where talents are given enough training to create ideas, enough autonomy to express their ideas, and enough resources to support their ideas. Also, giving stimulating rewards and incentives to employees is yet another important element in growing the internal digital capability within an organization and keeping the talents in the company.

Moreover, using more OKRs to evaluate employees and their work with respect to innovation programs can reduce their stress and allow them to focus more on creating new ideas. OKRs will allow employees to set goals, calculate, learn, and adapt more quickly. While trying to achieve their targets, innovation teams are often sandwiched between monitoring KPIs that are set for the entire business unit and tracking more realistic OKRs in real time—there’s no way around, doing both KPI and OKR is necessary.

References

  1. Fueling an Innovation Engine, interview with Frederik G. Pferdt
  2. Ways to inspire employees
  3. What agile means in Google

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