Building a culture of innovation

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Although it was almost 20 years ago, I can still recall how amazed and happy I was when I had my first ever cellphone, a Nokia 5110 (yeah, I know how true-blooded millennials would react: “Nokia what?!”). But at that time, being able to make and receive calls and text messages anytime and anywhere was already considered significant technological luxuries – a wireless telephone and a pager (another foreign term, I know) rolled into one. We were treated to a new level of convenience and connectivity. And not only that, the now-primitive but still challenging “Snake” game allowed me to get past through a lot of boring moments.

Ten years later, a déjà vu of amazement struck me again when I had my first smartphone. Before then, it was unimaginable to have access to the internet through a cellphone with a camera and a large touchscreen. As the years pass, we continue to see a continuous stream of improvements and enhancements pouring into the modern smartphone – with powerful rear and front camera, high-speed connectivity and countless apps – that enable us to practically do a whole lot of things. That’s what we call “innovation.”

Innovation is the art of creating new and better ways of doing things. Easy to say, hard to do. Innovation is, arguably, the single biggest differentiator between organizations that grow and thrive in this dynamic and evolving marketplace and those that succumb to disruption and competition.

In 2013, during the press conference to announce the acquisition of Nokia by Microsoft, then Nokia’s CEO, Stephen Elop, ended his emotional speech with the words, “We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow we lost.”

For quite some time, Nokia dominated the market for mobile phones. And while Elop suggested that they didn’t do anything wrong, I think they did. Doing nothing in a world where technology is evolving fast and with competitors becoming more agile and innovative caused Nokia to fall by the wayside.

Whether you are a fast-growing mid-sized business, or a large and stable organization like what Nokia was once was, finding your own distinctive way to innovate and integrating that into your existing culture are institutional life-defining advantages.

But how can an organization actually embed innovation in its culture? While there are no fixed and guaranteed steps, here are some useful guidelines that can serve as reference:

1. Change directions

Innovation starts with the impetus to change your business strategy. Whether it’s due to disruption, acquisition or simply overconfidence, revisiting your strategy and taking a new direction are often critical. I guess the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is no longer widely accepted nowadays.

2. Align everything with a guiding purpose

Ensuring that your executive team, the board of directors, your brand and work culture are all aligned with your organization’s guiding purpose is critical. Why do customers choose you? What is your reason for being in business?

3. Generate insights and ideas

Generating ideas is crucial to innovation. But ideas don’t spring exclusively from just the leaders of the organization. Process owners are also in a good position to share how practices can be improved. External consultants as well are available to generate breakthrough ideas.

4.Test and select initiatives

Choosing between two seemingly viable directions can be a difficult decision for CEOs and the Board. Decisions to kill existing businesses or services that lack profitability, to redesign existing services, to acquire other entities, or to develop truly new, breakthrough ideas, are never for those who are averse to risk. Hence, the need for testing before ultimately deciding which direction to take could somewhat give leaders the feedback and backup information they need before plunging.

5. Design your execution plan

Execution is everything when it comes to innovation. Aligning your resources (both financial and human) and capabilities to quickly bring your idea to the market is a process worth investing in. However, do not scrap the idea just because it appears costly in the beginning. Be creative and resourceful (e.g. consult with experts within your organization to fine-tune your idea until you eliminate all the limitations).

At P&A Grant Thornton, we are taking steps to create this culture of innovation. In our recently concluded Executive Conference, our managers presented innovative ideas that will contribute to the fulfillment of our vision and strategies. Exciting ideas spewed out and the enthusiasm of our people was clearly evident during the entire process.

A culture of innovation starts with the recognition that the only constant thing in this world is change and that it has actually taken place. It’s about nurturing an organization’s capability to see the world in a different perspective.

Who knows what the future smartphone will look like and what else it can do? It definitely maybe something no one has ever conceived nor imagined yet. But one thing is for sure, it is a product brought about by a great innovative idea born out of a culture of innovation that was executed into reality.

Sheng Llovido is a partner at Audit & Assurance of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 partners and more than 850 staff members. For your comments, please email sheng.llovido @ph.gt.com or
PAGrantThornton.marketscomm@ph.gt.com. For more information about P&A Grant Thornton, visit our website www.grantthornton.com.ph.

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