Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Building an Organization for Successful Innovation

Six years ago, EMC's India COE had just started and within a short span of three years, the Indian center became the leader in number of innovation ideas submitted. In 2011,  EMC  held its annual innovation summit meeting in Bangalore, moving it from Hopkinton for the first time. This was a considerable achievement given the fact that EMC is a global organization with R&D Centers in 11 countries.

The success of  innovation at  EMC  Center in India is a result of a sustained efforts and concentrated activities which led to an organizational process and part of organization culture. The success seen at  EMC  center in Bangalore can be replicated in any organization.

Organizational Capabilities

At the organizational level, there are four necessary capabilities that forms foundation for innovative culture.

1. Customer Insight

Great innovations start with customer insight. Organization have to work closely with customers and have multiple channels open to interact and gather information about and from customers, and distribute this information widely within the company. Organization also need to create opportunities for customers to participate directly with employees in product development process. This helps diffuse the knowledge gained from customer insights among all employees. Also see: Anthropology

2. Global Network

In today's global world,  "headquarters knows best" mentality  will not work. Global units must be encouraged to collaborate together and leverage knowledge that may be dispersed across the globe. At EMC most developmental projects require interacting with people from other geographic locations. This helps  integrate multiple sites into a seamlessly managed innovation network.

3. Supporting Organization

Organizations must be structured such that there are dedicated groups and tools to foster innovation. At  EMC, the Chief Technology Office (CTO) is dedicated to develop innovative products. HR conducts training programs on Innovative, creative thinking, patent laws etc. IT creates and maintains dedicated tools for collaborating and innovation management.

4. Vision for the Future 

Vision for the future sets the direction for innovation. Without direction, there will be thousands on innovative ideas which will go no where, and all innovation efforts will be wasted. At  EMC, the top leadership and all internal communication points to the central vision of Cloud Computing & Big Data. Three years ago,  EMC did not have much products for the cloud, the vision of the cloud based future set the trend & direction for all innovation activities.

People Skills for Innovation 

It is not the organization that innovates, it is the people who innovate. This implies that certain people skills must be developed in the organization as well. The basic skills sets needed for innovation are:

1. Leadership: Ability for individuals to take leadership in each innovation project

2. Curiosity: Be eager to know what's happening around us and understand what is needed.

3. Creativity: Ability to think of differently but in a constructive way and be of value to the organization

4. Learning: Ability to learn new technologies, tools and methods on one's own initiative - with or without formal training programs.

5. Agility: Ability to quickly develop a solution and implement it.

6. Sensitivity: Understand the cultural and technical limitations of current & proposed solutions and ability to work within those limitations.

The employees of the organization must have the above skills. It may not be possible to have a formal training program to imbibe these skills to employees. Instead try to hire people who have the right skills for innovation and assist them with formal training, mentorship and guidance as needed.

Closing Thoughts

If Innovation has to become a core competence of any organization, then one has to start with building the right organizational capabilities and follow it up with people skills. Remember that people are inherently creative and innovative, its only the organization and channeling that innovation into successful products/services will lead to profitability.

End Note: In last five years, EMC has been consistently growing at 10-12% year on year. The profitability, revenue growth and market share is steadily increasing - all this is due to its core organizational capabilities and innovation.

1 comment:

Nilay Shrivastava said...

Very nice and thoughtful article sir. No where read such a short and crisp insights about innovation.