Driving Innovation

ImageWait! Don’t turn away from this page….at least not yet, there is something you need to know on this topic that no one really talks about despite the fact that the “I” word is everybody’s favorite whipping cream these days. What drives Innovation really is Intent. Intent equates to the Mission of an enterprise; where Mission is defined as the Fundamental Economic Purpose for the existence of the enterprise. And Innovation cannot just happen; no matter what color shape or slogan you give it in the form of Crowd, Open and other dumbing jargons. For Innovation to happen, Transformation must happen first. Not your process or systems transformation but the transformation in Thinking of the people involved. This transformation in thinking is what renewal of intent and therefore purpose and consequently mission is. This transformation in thinking is the first step towards preparing an enterprise for Innovation. There can never be a doubt about the fact that Innovation in an enterprise happens when the entire enterprise and its ecosystem is energized to commercialize and realize the benefits of the innovation. This also demands a change in thinking from the way an enterprise operates. In essence, there are two levels at which an enterprise needs to first transform and prepare for Innovation to be successful. The first is at the level of Potential and the second level is at operation. Scientifically every reader here must understand the definition of the two energies; Potential energy is stored energy, ready to be used when needed. Kinetic energy on the other hand is the energy generated and consumed in the movement. The focal point of a Third World War could rather be the Potential Energy for Innovation rather than any of the other touted causes such as Oil, Religion, Water or even the good old Human Greed! Think Again…

What is so difficult about energizing intent? The answer is embedded in the often used flippant quote “the path to hell is paved with good intentions”! Each one of us should ask ourselves that question every now and then as a means of renewal and then voila; we will start becoming successful at increasing the rate of success with our New Year resolutions. Yes, we know the things in life that we need to do to be aligned with a higher purpose and yet we find it difficult to take the baby steps at an individual level because it demands a lot of discipline from the individual. And then the same individual goes to the enterprise and suddenly he / she becomes a magician and waves a wand and weaves every single goal and target set? Don’t you think there is something wrong with this picture?

ImageTransforming mindsets and getting leadership and management aligned with the rest of the enterprise to a higher threshold of capability and performance is a lot easier said than done. In my 27 years of experience and at least 20 of it spent in running major transformation programs, I have found that the most difficult challenge is to transform Intent that guides the mindsets. Especially when your sponsor has awarded you an engagement and you go back to them and throw a challenge on their face that they are not living up to their own brief. Let me share three examples from my experience that might be relevant here:

  1. My first Business Process Reengineering (BPR) engagement for Coopers & Lybrand in India was with SRF Limited. This engagement was won against great odds against the then Andersen Consulting. After a month of being on the engagement, during the first steering committee meeting, , I presented to the authorizing sponsors of the organization that they were not living up to the intent established in engaging us for the reengineering engagement. This was hampering the progress coursed for the desired outcomes to be achieved. To a shocked audience, I said we were withdrawing temporarily and will provide a month’s time for the leadership to re-group and think about their actions and if they are ready to action as per the demands of the original brief, we will come back and re-start the engagement. Else, if they want us to continue they would have to re-establish the brief. This was perhaps the first time ever they had faced someone who told them directly when they were paying to get a job done that that Intent should match actions which in turn would match expected outcomes. Of course, there was denial, anger and despondence but this leadership team had a remarkable man (their VP of Quality who believed in the organization achieving TQM with Deming Principles and Malcolm Baldrige assessment capabilities) who was able to rally around everyone in the leadership to see the light and take the responsibility to re-work on their intent. Least to say, we returned back to the engagement after a month’s hiatus and still completed the re-engineering within the original scheduled time in order to commission their new greenfield plant in Jabel Ali Dubai; almost a year ahead of schedule. The best part of this engagement outcome was that, the customer published the processes we had authored in their brochure informing their potential Customers what their process capabilities were. Nothing could be farther rewarding than that!
  2. When I headed the Enterprise Transformation Group (ETG) at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) I used to occupy an office on the 12th floor of the famous Air India building in Nariman Point; which is a famous downtown landmark in Mumbai, India. The building itself had historic significance for the Tatas as Jamshedji Tata is the Father of Indian aviation and the founder of Air India having commissioned this building. Air India became a nationalized corporation and the Tatas after several years had ended up occupying just two floors in a 22 storied building at that time. I built up all this background to zoom you in to the floor and its furniture that had never been renovated since its original construction and through its historic milieu. My role at TCS was not only to lead a division that offered integrated strategic services to customers but also to mirror that in the internal transformation of the enterprise. And my observation was, despite its history, how could we modernize the floor without taking away the grandeur of the legacy? The thinking I wanted to set in where the highest power and authority of the enterprise was seated was modernizing the thinking and keeping its strategy and therefore its environment relevant to its enterprise ecosystem. A couple of years later, TCS moved from a Privately held company to a Publicly owned one after years of resistance and one of the first steps it took in the process of change was to change the décor and distribution of floor space on the 12th floor of Air India. Subsequently, the CEO’s office was even moved out of the building to a more modern setting. But the process of transformation had thus begun with the current CEO probably being one of the youngest in the history of Tata Enterprise. He was the Executive Assistant to the then CEO when I was running the ETG. In a tangential reference to this example, the question arises whether a company such as TCS which was in the business of Services and had huge cash reserves of its own, really needed to be a public corporation. Well, my perspective then and now is that, an organization such as TCS needs funds only to transform itself into a more modern and relevant organization when it becomes a unified Product / Process / Services / Platform driven Solutions organization. There can be no other reason for companies such as Wipro, Infosys, and TCS who are among the top listed companies in India sustaining shareholder interest without transforming themselves into a more relevant global corporation that invents the most effective method to drive Enterprise Growth through Information Technology. The question again is of intent and how such intent gets implemented in the enterprise.
  3. My third example steers you to the transformation program I led at South African Revenue Services (SARS). I then reported as the Program Director into the Revenue Commissioner Mr. Pravin Gordhan who is currently the Finance Minister in the President Jacob Zuma’s government since May 2009. When I took charge, the program was already underway and floundering with the context of improving the information systems that would allow the increase of tax base. It might be relevant to understand here that SARS is the Revenue Generating agency for the Treasury Department that is directly overseen by the Finance Minister. Mr. Gordhan is a freedom fighter who suffered torture and incarceration for the cause of the state and a born leader; shrewd and decisive in what he does. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he were to become the President of South Africa one day soon. It was easy to convince him that Transformation Program before me had floundered because it lacked a narrative and therefore a cohesive direction. Rather than policing to collect taxes, how about changing the perspective of the program to “Create Wealth”? The question that appealed to him most was how to make the tax collection centers in South Africa similar to the environment that privatized banks offer. In order to attract your hard earned money, don’ privatized banks provide you the courtesy of access that demonstrate sensibility and respect to your individuality and accomplishments? Don’t they make it their business to create efficiencies that provide you the personalized benefit of Quality, Cost, Delivery (time), Service and Flexibility? How different are the South African citizen who are asked to contribute taxes from their earnings? It is pertinent to know here that South Africa collects all its taxes; be it personal, excise, business and customs as a single agency. In essence, the questioning led to the creation of a design center that would continuously renew transformation and a Program Office that would oversee the Transformation Program and a Logistics division that would drive all initiatives and projects emerging from the Program and Design Centers. Thus a changed intent completely changed the Context and Implementation of a Program from a discrete event to a continuous process; completely staffed and run by people who were transformed from within the enterprise to lead the organization to a new horizon of promise.

ImageThe science of management is being more and more referred to in the craft of running business enterprises. And the most important fallacy that needs to be corrected not from a perspective of syntax but from the understanding of the connection is the relationship between Mission and Vision. It must be understood clearly that Mission is not just a statement that sounds nice. It is a statement of Intent and there must be a constant transformation and renewal in the enterprise to enable the same to the changing contexts of the society and ecosystem that the enterprise lives in. This in turn, must drive the Vision or the direction in which an enterprise is headed and the means it needs to employ to achieve the desired outcomes. Just go to the sites of the top 100 companies in the world and examine their Mission, Values, Vision, Goals & Objectives and Key Performance Indicators; for the order of connecting the flow from Potential to Performance. You will be disappointed that there are very few who consciously establish this connection.

The design of enterprises should be based on the cognition of these 3 keys to driving Transformation and therefore Innovation in our modern context:

  1. Businesses need to be global today because Technology & Applications provide seamless distribution and reach for market offerings and hence access must be Profiled, Personalized and Preferentiated. This is the promise of a world that is replacing fire with renewable technology to sustain life.

  2. Oligopoly is passé. There will always be competition and that is not a negative condition. On the contrary, it must help define your business for the long term than the short burn; promoting both a culture of Intrapreneurship and Entrepreneurship. This is the premise of unifying a business ecosystem with enterprise processes.

  3. Transformation must be a continuous exercise that aims at a higher average of the enterprise to act in the direction of the desired outcomes as opposed to the romantic notion of everybody will be transformed and will sing and march merrily in the direction of the pied piper. Here in lies the secret sauce for bridging Potential with Performance.

About Subbu Iyer

Subbu Iyer is an Innovation & Transformation Leader as with 28 years of serving customers globally. He is currently the Chief Designer & Transformer at Energizing Innovation, an enterprise that is being founded to facilitate continuous growth in enterprises and as a consequence create societal wealth. The Radical Shift that this enterprise intends to employ is focusing on the Potential rather than the Performance of a business. He has been a serial entrepreneur and an intrapreneur in his past life, having founded Nihilent Technologies and Nandaki Systems besides being associated in senior leadership roles with firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Cambridge Technology Partners, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies and Steria.
This entry was posted in Business Process Management, Business Strategy & Innovation, Change Management, Customer Management, Innovation, Management, Society, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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