Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Adapt. Change. Innovate. Excel.

Recent years have seen rapid change in the internal and external environment of organisations. Whichever industry we look at: consumer goods, education, communications, pharmaceuticals, software, electronics, industrial supply, construction, hospitality or banking, every industry has been impacted by massive and sweeping changes, in terms of product and process innovation, customer profile and their changing expectations, new business models, and expanding markets. Some of these have been mere change to adapt and survive in the competitive globalised economy of the day, but a significant section has been organisational innovation in terms of process, product and culture with the objective of achieving a vision that is far beyond mere survival of the fittest. Because the word innovation has been used in a variety of contexts it probably is useful to put together a broad definition of what we at The Human Factor have looked for when we went to a variety of organisations and experts over the last month or so in search of excellence in organisational innovation. Our idea was to look for organisations who took the lead in new means of doing tasks in a variety of processes; processes which set the organisation apart in its own environment.

It has been an eye-opening experience for the team as we found organisations in every industry and environment, be it heavy engineering or software, entrepreneur-driven or PSE behemoth making significant efforts in process innovation in every function, be it recruitment or sales, finance or production, training or marketing. Innovation, wherever it happens, necessitates change, and traditional wisdom has it that human beings are naturally resistant to change. Our experience though has been a little different in that all the people that we have spoken to have made their peace with change being the only constant, and are welcoming positive change with a smile if not with open arms. It would be possibly be too early to generalise that all organisations are changing, because certainly some are changing too fast for the rest, some are merely adapting to survive, and some are falling apart by the wayside unable to keep pace with the innovative organisations.

The characteristics that we found common in organisations that have been successful in innovation are that the culture of innovation is not restricted to a division or strata of hierarchy but permeates across the length and breadth of the organisation. These organisations also look at all difficult situations as an opportunity to innovate and improve, keep an open mind and culture, and are open to suggestions, experimenting and more importantly failure. These organisations kept innovating in stressful times of the last economic crisis, and looked at innovation as a solution out of the downturn. Cross-generational and cross-functional collaboration also seemed to be a common factor, with both the young guns and the experienced hands willing to listen and learn from each other. Possibly as an extension of the culture of openness these organisations also came across as nimble and agile, always ready to jump on the next big idea.

I am sure our readers belong to innovative organisations or want to build sustainable innovative organisations, and I would like to share one more important lesson learnt in our journey. It is important to be able to conceive an innovation, but it is far more useful and important to be able to implement it.

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