In today's dynamic business climate, the mantra for long-established companies is disrupt or be disrupted. Increasingly information and digital capabilities are the disruptive force impacting companies. It's a boardroom topic, it's high on the CEO agenda. In short, disruption has become a center of gravity.
This helps explain why more than six out of ten (65%) of CEOs see disruption as an opportunity, not as a threat, for their business, according to a 2017 study by KPMG. For those who look past disruption, the winds of change can also sweep them away (consider the Amazon effect in retail or Tesla in Energy and Automotive).
To help contend with the impact of disruption, courageous and inspirational technology leadership has never been more important and has become a top priority when companies launch executive searches.
Responding to or creating disruption isn't simple - it is built upon handling the fundamentals well and having a team and culture that is capable of innovation. In other words, a culture of genius. Executing the fundamentals well is the ticket needed for the business to consider your innovative ideas.
But how do you create a culture of genius, one that regularly produces innovation? Research suggests there is no simple recipe or cookie-cutter approach. It depends upon the company, its culture and the leaders involved. While we can't offer a literal playbook, there are some ingredients that are essential.
One such ingredient is promoting a risk-tolerant culture where it is safe for employees to test new ideas and technologies without fear of failure. A culture that values and rewards innovation and expects its leaders to value innovation just as they'd value more traditional measures like on-time delivery of new solutions.
Rich Adduci is one CIO we've met who has been successful in creating a culture of genius. He's found that a multi-faceted approach to innovation is essential.
"At Boston Scientific, we saw innovation as critical to our future success as an IT organization, so we sought to create it as part of our culture. We benchmarked other organizations who we felt were great at innovation, and we talked to many of them to learn what went well and what challenges they encountered. From those conversations, we identified steps that we could take to improve our chances to become an innovative organization."
For instance, Adduci and his team took risks, such as finding money in the IT budget to create an innovation grant program, one that allowed any IT employee to obtain funding to build a proof-of-concept for an innovative idea. Adduci and his team also focused on innovation as they recruited new leaders into the company - finding people who were able to keep the trains on time, and also spark innovation.
"Years earlier, we had focused on building a diverse workforce, while our push on diversity was to grow a more innovative culture. We saw that our investment in diverse talent really paid dividends in helping us create the right conditions for innovation to happen," said Adduci. "We also recognized the value of expanding our circle of innovation, so we partnered with the R&D community to establish hack-a-thons to solve customer problems. And most of all, our leaders in IT talked about innovation all the time - we told stories about innovation at other companies and how they did it. We recognized innovation whenever we had the chance, and we made it clear that this was not a program of the month, it was something that we wanted to endure," said Adduci, who served as both chair and as a speaker for HMG Strategy's recent 2017 Boston CIO Executive Leadership Summit.
Taking Accountability for Innovation
Adduci also has seen the importance of pressing his own leaders to take accountability for innovation. Beyond the traditional rewards and incentives that are offered, Adduci also encouraged his direct reports to introduce innovative ideas to business leaders.
"We found that one of our biggest barriers in creating an innovative culture was our own willingness as a leadership team to bring innovative ideas to the business," said Adduci. "Our teams had a lot of great ideas - ideas that would really help the business, but many of our leaders lacked the confidence to bring these ideas to the business."
There were additional challenges that had to be faced. "We found that some leaders were more comfortable using their time with business leaders to talk about tactical, day-to-day items on the punch list, and just wouldn't prioritize their time to talk about new innovative ideas that could help the business. I found that when you start to push leaders on this front, not a lot happens - your leaders may tell you they will adjust their approach, but still you don't see results. This is often because your leaders don't want to take risks with their business partners, and indeed the business in the beginning just didn't see us as a source of innovation. It was something we had to work toward or earn."
"Our focus on improving our performance on the typical measures also trained business executives to see us as tacticians, like the Geek Squad, and we would have rather been thought of as Q from the James Bond films," said Adduci. "To establish ourselves with the business, we had to take a bit more risk and to encourage our leaders to stretch themselves a bit and bring new ideas to the business. You really need to help your leaders through it and give them the confidence that you'll support them, that you have their back. We found that with some patience and consistent focus, the conversations got easier and the business begins to look at us differently, not just as the IT tacticians, but as a business partner capable of creating strategic advantage to their business."
One of Rich's leaders at Boston Scientific proposed an idea to accelerate time-to-market for devices by shortening the time to ramp clinical trials. "The leader went out on his own and found a small company in Silicon Valley that had a Big Data cloud-based solution that was very low cost and fast to implement. If it worked, it would provide a quantum leap in the visibility we could offer our clinical business leaders on their trials, and we were convinced it could also shorten our time to market."
Once the IT leader brought the idea to the business, they agreed on a clinical trial to pilot the solution and the idea proved even better than expected. "This leader didn't ask for permission, no one asked them to solve this problem or gave them the answer - they just did it - and it shaved months off our new product introduction," said Adduci. "It blew me away, my leader told me what they'd done like it was no big deal."
In another case, Adduci's team developed a Twitter monitoring solution that helped the company identify service disruption issues based on customer tweets it collected and analyzed.
By encouraging members of his teams to think differently about their role in the company, Adduci enabled IT staffers to help make a bigger impact at each company. "I encouraged my team to keep their heads up in meetings, contributing to all phases of the business, not just when an IT topic arose or someone asked your opinion on an IT matter. We thought about innovation as everyone's job. While we did create innovation labs to research new technologies, we wanted every one of our employees to see themselves as having the potential to find the next great idea. Our IT leadership team supported them to develop and pursue those opportunities with time and funding."
Fostering a culture of genius offers other cultural and operational benefits, said Adduci. "What we found is that by having a number of these pieces working together, we were able to build a self-perpetuating cycle of innovation that feeds itself - just like a flywheel, it takes energy to get it started, but as it continues to turn, it builds its own momentum, and over time can propel itself ahead."
For fellow CIOs who are looking to foster a culture of innovation, Adduci stresses the importance of keeping it fun. "Some people will like the aspect of playing with new toys (technologies)," said Adduci. "But in order to create that culture of genius, you have to make it fun and make it something your team can celebrate. We set out from the start to help bring innovation to the business, and we measured our ability to not just come up with an idea but to also pursue the most promising ideas and bringing them to `market' with the business - and we celebrated our successes as often as we could, both formally and informally."
To learn more about the culture of genius concept and innovative approaches that technology leaders such as Rich Adduci are applying, check out HMG Strategy's schedule of upcoming summits.