Innovation. We all know its importance and the vast majority of organisations include it as one of their core values but are we creating cultures and environments that foster its development? Or will it just remain a buzzword that sounds good and we don’t deliver on it?
Nagib Kassis, GM, IT strategy and transformation at Allianz Insurance, says the role of innovation is to drive growth. WA Police’s former CIO, Mike Schuman, says the purpose of innovation is to disrupt and overcome legacy systems.
When looking at innovation we are interested in new methods, solutions or ways of achieving results that matter to the overall organisational objective, not just that it is a new technology for technology’s sake.
Let’s take a look at some of the key ingredients necessary to support and create a culture of innovation.
1. Engage in light touch governance
An element of freedom is required to innovate; it will not thrive in an environment that is entrenched in too much process.
Schuman believes the purpose of governance is to deliver a quality outcome not a checklist. While at WA Police, Schuman broke down the formal process and lines of communication when it came to innovation.
Communication and direct engagement are critical in facilitating innovation and Schuman made sure he was accessible to people who had ideas that would drive better business outcomes for the organisation.
One of the ways this was accomplished was through utilising an organisation wide portal. Discussion is fostered by the engagement of senior execs on the portal and culminating with the Minister's award for innovation in policing. This year’s award was for an idea to enable colour-coded prioritisation of incidents from the suggestion of a staff sergeant.
Innovation can be simple ideas and they can come from anywhere. They come from across the organisation as well as from outside of it. The portal is now used by more than 60 per cent of staff across the department. This high level of participation provides a critical mass of innovative thinking.
2. Be an internal entrepreneur
Allianz Insurance’s Kassis believes innovation can’t be put into a process – it must be encouraged as a way of thinking and built into the DNA of an organisation.
Kassis says organisations should think like start-ups and bring elements of that entrepreneurial thinking into the corporate world.
“Keep abreast of what is being newly developed, not just in your industry but others, and look to see how they can be applied in your organisation,” he says.
Nagib practices this regularly as an “entrepreneur in residence” in the Fintech startup domain for a venture capitalist.
To encourage a start-up mentality in a corporate and to demonstrate how corporate and overly processed thinking can sometimes inhibit innovation, Kassis recently invited three start-ups to present to a mix of IT and Business employees at Allianz.
Thinking from their existing structures, policies, and procedures, the group identified a list of reasons why these three start-ups would not work.
Noticing this, Kassis paused the meeting and pointed out that all three businesses were already running and succeeding in their respective markets.
It was only inside the restrictions of an existing, automatic, and habitual way of thinking that they could not work, hence the need to continuously challenge the “thinking” culture.
Sometimes we get so trapped inside the taste and feel of our existing box that we forget it’s up to us to redesign and build new more innovative boxes.
3. Unleash discretionary effort
Duncan Holt, CIO at insurer, ReturnToWorkSA, says the key to innovation is tapping into the discretionary time of your team.
He says the time necessary to complete the mandatory or formal requirements of their role should only take about 50 per cent of their time. The time they have available above this is their discretionary time.
“This is the time where they should be given the freedom to innovate. Give them the permission to innovate without being concerned with how they do it, but also let them know results are expected from it,” he said.
When this innovation leads to your team doing their job better and more efficiently it creates the beginning of a cycle of more and more innovation, he says.
“Once they do their job more efficiently, the formal requirements take less and less time allowing for more and more discretionary time to innovate.
Having your team apply themselves during this discretionary time as opposed to them putting in time is a key to unleashing the innovative potential of your organisation,” he says.
4. Ask why
Be aware of the mindset or behaviour patterns of being either a ‘historian’ or a ‘rule master’ in your environment.
Be aware of conversations that sound anything like, ‘that’s the way we do things’, ‘we’ve always done it that way’, ‘we have to follow the procedure’, or ‘don’t fix what’s not broken.’
You need to keep asking ‘why?’ and not get comfortable inside the existing box that your organisation has created.
Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. Lou is currently the Practice Leader, IT Culture and Talent Development, at DDLS.
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