It’s an extraordinary time for innovation. Technological change and industry disruption seem to be accelerating. And digital information networks are linking individuals, organizations, and nations as never before. With uncertainty surrounding us, we all need mechanisms and a culture that encourages embracing new technologies kindles the passion for knowledge and eases barriers to creativity and serendipitous advances.
Increasing consumer expectations, the influx of competitors, and the reduction in margins are organizations to rethink their current business models and sources of revenue. Innovation is a proven path to differentiation and competitiveness and the manufacturing industry needs to gear up for the new world of possibilities by a cultural transition towards an innovative-first attitude.
In this interview with Milind Apte, SVP HR, Ceat Tyres, we look at some of the ways by which organizations can look at not only driving innovation at work but creating a culture of continuous innovation.
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
Q: What does a culture of innovation mean in the current context of work and how do you see it shaping up for the future of work?
In today’s VUCA world the imperative need to sustain and thrive is to be agile and innovative. Whether one is a start-up or a corporation that has been around for years, these two critical factors will decide the organization’s sustenance. This will mean that we need to build an organizational culture that drives the concept of innovation deep within each strata of its employees. It should truly be a daily way of life.
While many Innovation approaches today focus on the ‘hard’ aspects of innovation like the creation of new businesses, enhancing the portfolio, improving the growth strategy, the ‘soft’ challenges like risk-taking, driving the culture of entrepreneurship, promoting creativity mostly get side-lined.
Innovation should not be an agenda only driven by the R&D team, rather it should be a priority for all the teams in the organization so that as a whole, the organization thrives on the culture of innovation.
Q: How can you create a culture where innovation thrives?
Creating a culture of innovation is all about giving that comfort cushion to your employees to take risks and thrive on autonomy and freedom. Also, by encouraging cross-functional working, the employees are open to numerous ideas which help them in developing alternate solutions to the problems in their respective functions. The leadership team has to be solely responsible for driving this culture from top to bottom. They need to provide an environment to the employees where failures are embraced and are part of the organizational learning process. Rewarding failed innovations will actually help in inculcating the culture of innovation.
Q: What are the key capabilities and mindset required to embrace a culture of innovation?
One of the most important capabilities to embrace the culture of innovation is collaboration, not only within the organization but also with external partners. These may include, other organizations, academic institutions, customers, etc. By focusing on collaboration outside of one’s boundaries, we tend to develop a global perspective that helps one in staying relevant. One of the most important pillars for enabling the culture of innovation in one’s organization is the right and relevant training. This will enable the team with the right tool and techniques for innovation. It should cater to the new methods for developing and generating an idea, sustaining & executing it.
The culture of innovation will also require some changes at the policy and at the organizational structure level. These enablers, if positioned well, should effectively help in building a unique innovation culture.
Q: How do you build teams which are dedicated to reinforcing cultural values that echo innovation?
The most effective and reliable way to build teams that are ‘innovative’ is to encourage and promote cross-departmental work. The culture of CFT is inoculated in fostering the culture of innovation and openness. Developing a bottom-up approach where each employee has the freedom to voice his opinions, further adds to the entire aim of instilling innovation. Silo working has to be strictly discouraged.
Q: Creative abrasion, the ability to develop a marketplace of ideas not from a single flash of insight but from a series of sparks generated through rigorous discourse and debate, is said to be a core capability needed to engage in innovative problem-solving. What are your views and how is HR in Ceat Tyres is accelerating or plans to enhance this capability in the workforce?
Creative abrasion definitely helps in unwrapping bold ideas. If this process is channelized well, it may definitely help in garnering out-of-the-box solutions to various problems. If two or more people who have different perspectives are engaging in constructive discussions, the possibility is that a third and a better solution will emerge from the debate. Openness at CEAT is something that is very core to us, and we drive it within our employees via structured awareness forums. Even when a new employee is onboarded, he/she is apprised by the leadership team on the culture of openness which we practice at CEAT.
Q: Governing innovation is not easy! It takes the courage to act in the long-term interests of the organization even when markets are more short-sighted. Can you share some suggestions when it comes to governing innovation as the priority and focus among all the levels in an organization?
Driving Innovation is definitely not easy, and it is not a day or a month’s job. There needs to be a right balance between developing a culture of innovation at the same time focussing on the hard realities of the business and take action.
Empowerment is needed for innovation. It is very important to develop an owner mindset instead of an employee mindset. It is also imperative to be sometimes brutally honest and provide constructive feedback. Innovation is also something that should not be governed. One should focus on motivating people to do it, creating the right environment, and rewarding those who do it. Innovation is done best when it is not governed.