Because Innovation is for All
A recent survey of industry leaders voted innovation as their top business priority. This won't come as a surprise, of course. At an increasing number of organizations, the focus of innovation is shifting from "how" or "what" to "who". And increasingly, the answer is "everyone". Hence, talent managers are looking at innovation ability and attitude as an essential quality in new hires. At all levels, in all functions.
But, acquiring the right talent is one thing; putting it to work is entirely another. Enterprises need to provide the right conditions and climate before innovation can grow from the grassroots.
The first step is to adopt innovation as a strategic objective of the organization, and sustain it at the top of the business agenda. Let everyone know that the executive leadership is solidly behind it. Next, create the right innovation climate - Allow for failure so that employees are not afraid to share new ideas, however far-fetched. Encourage independent thinking. Hear everyone out, especially the less vocal. Make employees accountable for results, but let them decide how to achieve them. When an idea isn't taken forward, let the employee concerned know the reasons behind the decision. Also, avoid sending out mixed signals on what the organization expects; this will only confuse and eventually discourage employees from thinking outside their comfort zone. Identify employees who can act as innovation champions, spreading the word among other employees, and helping them become more innovative as well.
Apart from the right organizational setting, the enterprise should also provide a structure to inspire, direct and channelize grassroots innovation. At Infosys, the overarching goal of all innovation, however big or small, is to get to within "zero distance" of the client - a place where there is total alignment between client needs and expectations, and Infosys delivery. While this might seem simple to the point of being obvious, it is amazing how few organizations actually succeed at it. A big reason for this is that we are all so caught up in finding the next "big" solution - which is actually a little bigger, a little better, a little faster or cheaper than the last - that we have no time for finding the next big problem. We are chasing answers, and forgetting to ask questions. But, as motivational speaker and author Tony Robbins says, "Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers."
To get ourselves to ask the right questions, find the big problems, and articulate the biggest challenges confronting our clients, we embraced Design Thinking. Today, Design Thinking is teaching us to see every situation, not from a business or technology perspective, but from the customers' point of view, so that we may innovate in empathy to provide a solution that they truly desire.
Next, in trying to get every one of our employees to become more naturally innovative, such that they begin to innovate in their day-to-day jobs, we devised a simple five point framework, which goes as follows: Employees must look at and learn from their current projects, and also from those being run by other teams. Every assignment is an opportunity to explore whether the things being done can be done better, faster, or cheaper; it is also an opportunity to do something outside the project brief to offer additional value to the client. As far as possible, every new idea or innovation must be articulated in clear and measurable business terms. And finally, all these ideas must be shared freely so that various individuals, as well as the organization, may benefit from them.
The above principles and practices are currently at work in thousands of our live assignments. Here is one of the great ideas to have sprung up at the grassroots: A young member of an Infosys team working on an application maintenance project for one of the largest credit card companies in the world, devised a method using a simple open source solution to assess early in the credit card application evaluation process, if everything was in order. Until then, the client had not noticed that its current practice of screening photographs on the applications at a late stage was needlessly delaying approval and adding to procedural downtime. The simple innovation proposed by Infosys helped the card company save millions.
Encouraged by the success of these initiatives, we are taking Design Thinking and the Zero Distance program to every one of our client organizations, so innovation moves from the fringes to the mainstream.
Watch out for more inspiration from our Zero Distance collection...