How do you Foster a Culture of Innovation?


Innovation: the missing ingredient

With boundless opportunities emerging from the digital revolution around us, it’s not surprising that Innovation is the top talent priority, globally, for Shared Services (as highlighted in SSON's 2019 survey, see below). Given the sector’s, well-known struggle with employee engagement (plus retention), building a culture of innovation could be the best solution to address both past as well as future challenges.

With the proliferation of agile digital tools, the promise of RPA pivoting with deep learning AI solutions, and the unravelling of the world of Blockchain, there is an overarching sense of being overwhelmed with the possibilities out there. The rapid pace at which these trends are evolving is further exacerbating the decision-making process for leadership teams who are used to traditional approaches to transformation, with three to seven-year time frames!

Fostering a culture of innovation is one of the best ways to surf the wave of changes ahead while ensuring an optimal approach to transformation. Here, highly engaged operations team members own the end-to-end innovation roadmap while overstretched process teams shift their roles from ‘transformation leaders’ to ‘transformation facilitators’.

Insights on market trends, decisions on technology selection, opportunities for process re-engineering, and more, can be crowdsourced from inside the organization; by better leveraging employee interests such as market analysis, technology trends, and creativity, along with other relevant interests. With technology-adept millennials making up the majority of the workforce, no other sector has the unique opportunity to fully leverage this wave of technology transformations as does the SSO sector.

To better understand what a Culture of Innovation is, let’s align on these terms:

  • Innovation or Innovative Thinking is the characteristic trait of being able to relate to a problem while feeling empowered to solve it.
  • Culture reflects the characteristic features of everyday existence (way of life) shared by people in a place or organization.
  • A Culture of Innovation is when ‘Innovative Thinking’ becomes a cultural trait.

One can better relate to the value of a Culture of Innovation by looking at places where this culture is alive:

  • Amazon: Here, innovation fostering has been converted to a science; everyone from a warehouse supervisor to a data science executive is empowered to innovate, submit improvement initiatives via a simple template, and is given sponsorship to try risky new ideas.
  • Alphabet: With its 20% projects, on request cross-company assignments, and the famous Google X, Moon-shot projects have truly galvanized employees to solve worthy global problems while propelling the organization forward to be one of the most valued in the world.
  • Silicon Valley (region): By pioneering technology revolution since the early 1970s, this region has fostered innovation by the simple approach of encouraging creativity along with empowering employees to test new solutions (often with really expensive hardware/software).

While these examples may seem far-fetched for the ‘transaction factories’ that SSO centers represent, many SSO pioneers are already starting to foster a culture of innovation through early steps.

Building a culture of innovation could be the best solution to address both past as well as future challenges.

Building a culture is a long process requiring sustained focus from leadership to ensure its success. That said, early successes accelerate the creative spiral which spreads quickly through the organization.

How to launch a Culture

A culture of innovation can be developed by ensuring that every member of the organization has innovation as a core responsibility on a daily basis, and is empowered with the required knowledge, methodology, and tools.

There are three fundamental requirements to foster a Culture of Innovation:

  1. It should cover every member of the organization from reception to mail room to the board room. No exceptions.
  2. Innovation should be a core responsibility and reviewed on a daily basis, not something that can be parked until the end of the year as an annual objective.
  3. Critically, everyone should be empowered with appropriate knowledge, methodology, understanding, and tools, to experiment.

While the arguments in favour of building such a culture are promising, the typical challenge is quite a mundane one. As per the famous Chinese saying, “A journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step,” when it comes to implementing a culture of innovation, the first step is often the insurmountable one: Leadership teams need to align on the fact that their low-cost center can become a true innovation hub!

Are you ready to champion innovation as a cultural trait within your organization?

Read up on what’s required here