Innovation and Cultural Transformation

26 June 2017

Brian Greenacre, Partner, Business Services |

I have been fortunate enough to hear from some of the leading minds in the Australian technology sector, including both clients and colleagues, exposing me to their experiences with innovation and the associated cultural transformation that occurs with it.

Innovation has many meanings - whilst there is a strong media focus on start-ups, new apps, and pioneering platforms, it is the broader concept of new ideas and new ways of doing things that has stood out for me. When we speak with clients, and indeed when we look at our own business, it has become evident to me that effective innovation is guided by one simple concept - enhancing the customer experience.

“What are we doing to make things better?”

Innovation: A fine balance between independence and management

Some believe that for innovative ideas to flourish you need to remove all obstacles from your environment. However, businesses have finite resources, and we need to convince those who control the levers that we have an idea worthy of those resources, whilst entrusting them to ‘pull the plug’ where necessary.

Doing nothing can be a valid choice in some circumstances, but in an era of constant change doing nothing can also lead to eventual demise. We need to focus on demonstrating how outcomes can be achieved, overcoming fear of change, or the limitations of budget constraints.

Commitment is key

In my experience, many organisations attempt to introduce the philosophy of innovation but fail in their execution, as it is approached with a ‘set and forget’ mentality. Successful innovation strategies require a strong commitment that empowers their organisation to drive true change and bring about a culture of innovation. We need to implement a plan and scale up, either in incremental steps or giant leaps.

Rather than forming homogenous working groups, organisations need diversity of thought, experiences and backgrounds. From this, they can combine different opinions and leverage them to give rise to the new ideas and approaches that are needed. As managers, we need to ensure we build an environment where this diversity can thrive, be it through cross-functional, multi-discipline or co-located teams, or through providing platforms and standards that encourage and assist teams rather than limit them.

People power

Innovation is about bringing people on a journey. As part of this journey we see real life situations and decisions, people who face challenges in their day that need to be addressed. Those that can be most assisted need to form part of the change process, beyond lip service they need to assist in defining problems and designing solutions – it is often the simplest or subtlest changes that can make big a difference to what is delivered and these can have lasting, beneficial outcomes.

People need to feel comfortable speaking up and expressing their views. By remaining curious and testing assumptions, people are able to revaluate the status quo. One of the most challenging features of an organisation can be inbuilt myths around best practices. There is nothing more frustrating than asking “Why do we do it that way?”, getting the answer “I don’t know but that’s the way we do it” only to discover six months later the reason we are doing it that way is due to an outdated policy that people didn’t realise no longer applies. Technology is a wonderful tool to assist innovation, but it is a culture of change that will lead to long-term dividends.

A risky business

Change can encompass deploying new systems and programs, or it can be as simple as having the courage to turn off existing systems or programs that will no longer provide maximum utility for the user or the organisation. Innovation at its core is about taking risk. Risk is part of our everyday decision making process, we need to get better at determining urgency, and setting priorities so that we can test and deploy new ideas and new ways of doing things. We need to remain mindful that not taking risks may be the biggest risk of all.

Organisations today have a tendency to worry more about the consequences of doing something rather than those of not doing anything - everyone sees the results of an unsuccessful move, yet few readily see the costs of moves not made. The natural inclination is to be cautious, even in situations that demand creativity. Time should be spent understanding the outcome and impact of the decisions made, not just measuring the resources used. Reporting needs to be simple and only take a minimal amount of time - the energy needs to focus on adding value and making things better.
The new maxim does not necessarily need to be ‘fail fast, fail often’, but we certainly don’t want to hide from trying new ideas and, if they aren’t working: stop, recalibrate and re-design the situation.

If you’re interested in discussing the innovation and cultural transformation opportunities for your business, please connect with me or contact me at [email protected].

Brian Greenacre is a partner in the Business Services area of BDO working with a variety of clients across the ICT and start-up space to bring their ideas and aspirations to life.