I was invited by a leading global Pharmaceutical company to talk to around 500 of their UK & Irish employees about innovation today. I am blown away by the parallels between healthcare and investment management, in particular the shift from pushing products to delivering outcomes/solutions for customers (and ultimately patients). Here’s the Prezi and a summary of my key points.
Background and context
Since leaving Henderson, I have made it my mission to help organisations in different industries enable their people to do the best work of their lives, whilst adding meaningful value to their customers, companies and society. I am convinced this is the future of work and I want to play my part in rebuilding organisations to fully utilise and honour the gifts of every single person who comes to work every day.
I believe real value is created in the gap between the employee and the customer, between manufacturing and distribution, between head office and the field. That is where innovation happens and is needed. I am talking about employee led, customer centric innovation. That’s what I mean when I say Rethink Innovation.
The need for innovation
There is a desperate need for innovation today as many companies, in many industries are facing accelerated change and disruption:
- Historical products are being commoditized & we are facing intense competition putting pressure on margins and making it difficult to differentiate.
- Technology is developing exponentially bringing huge advances in science, genetics, healthcare, communication, etc. dramatically changing the landscape.
- Information itself is commoditized and customers have much more information at their fingertips making them more demanding.
- The general public and customers are disillusioned with corporate self interest.
- In a world of austerity and low growth customers want more for less!
These are major forces of change on their own let alone when considered together. We cannot do things the way they have always been done. We need to adapt, innovate and engage to survive. We need to redesign our companies, industries and economies for a changing world.
When I talk about employee-led or grassroots innovation, I don’t mean it in the sense you might know it. You don’t need to sign off a big budget, it doesn’t need to come from the top, it is not just about product – launching the next big blockbuster, it is not just the concern of specialists/creatives/scientists and definitely does not need to take years in development.
Innovation comes from the latin word ‘innovare’ – meaning to change. Innovation is the development of real value for customers by developing solutions to their unarticulated needs – through different products, processes, services, ideas, technologies or business models.
Counter-intuitively innovation thrives under constraints, some of the most innovative companies are emerging in developing countries – like India. A leader in this field, Vineet Nayar CEO of HCL Technologies India, has built his whole company around employee-led innovation with ‘reverse accountability’, where all employees rate their boss and their boss‘s boss and can hold their management accountable because he believes that all value is created between the employee and the customer. It should not be surprising that technology companies lead the way in this given the internet itself is incredible adaptable, innovative and engaging.
I believe anyone can be creative and I believe that innovation is everyone’s business if our companies are going to adapt, innovate and engage. When all employees have permission to innovate with customers at the centre of everything they do – that’s where the magic happens!
Fostering innovation communities
The key to engaging staff in innovation is to bring together different people, with different perspectives in small groups to vent frustrations, share problems, challenge dogma and channel ideas. This must be supported by leaders, must be recognised and be fun/inspiring in order for people to volunteer their time, creativity and energy.
You will need to draw on different perspectives, really listen to customers and others internally and externally. It is by encouraging and empowering lots of people to deliver lots of small ideas with minimal cost/risk that momentum is created. It is critical that the leadership team continually encourage participation, remove barriers and celebrate successes.
To set up an innovation community you need to:
- set a strategic context around critical business problems
- educate how this new way of working will fit into/around existing work & how it will differ (with both management and employees)
- support members with light touch coaching and adequate infrastructure
- get going with a pilot to experiment, learn, review and deliver some quick wins
- ensure your leadership team continuously encourage participation, celebrate successes and build legitimacy in the organisation by removing barriers
- build alignment by integrating innovation into the organisational habits and culture
Making innovation everyone’s business
It is human nature to be myopic and to look at things from our own narrow viewpoints. However, when we look at the bigger picture, when we look beyond our boundaries, and consider different perspectives we start to see things differently. Perspective is a powerful thing. Innovation comes from changing your perspective, drawing on different perspectives and thereby thinking differently.
It is all too easy to stick to what you know and who you know, but if you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got. If you want to adapt, innovate and engage, you need to intentionally include people with different perspectives, with different experiences & expertise; intentionally draw on customer insights and other industry perspectives. Only then can you start to see what others have missed.
Fostering innovation communities gives all employees permission to do things differently, to challenge dogma, to vent frustrations, to get different perspectives, to share best practices, to have a safe space to experiment, to take risks and to fail fast, learn and adapt. Employee-led innovation is energising, refreshing, engaging and you will be blown away by how many people volunteer the gift of their time, ideas and enthusiasm to further corporate goals and complex industry challenges. If you can get it right, your employees will thank you for investing in them and for helping them to do the best work of their lives.
To read more about ‘innovation communities’ – click here.