Article: Should we trade large ideas for small improvements?

Life @ Work

Should we trade large ideas for small improvements?

Without driving a culture of small process improvements, the chances of an organization delivering large innovations are bleak
Should we trade large ideas for small improvements?

The BPO industry reduced the average age of newcomers to the workforce and brought challenges to manage scale and new work timings


Organizational myths surrounding process innovations

Without driving a culture of small process improvements, the chances of an organization delivering large innovations are bleak

Innovation can be of two kinds, product innovation and process innovation. While large product innovations are more hyped and draw more business attention, one cannot deny that product innovations are not possible without small incremental process innovations. Sue Marks, CEO of the RPO firm Pinstripe Inc., says that minor innovations appear less powerful, but are more successful and have more long lasting impact. On most occasions, a large product innovation is usually a result of a series of small process innovations that introduce new possibilities and reveal opportunities.

Most businesses operate under several myths surrounding process innovations. It is important for the organization to abolish the following myths to drive process innovation within the enterprise.

Myth #1― Best practices are present only within the industry

Most organizations look for process innovation only within the industry. Instances from several sectors show that best practices imported from other industries can often form the basis of process innovation within organizations. The BPO, retail, IT/ITES, and telecom industries faced challenges that were unprecedented in the Indian corporate sector. These industries therefore did not have industry best practices and use-case scenarios for process innovation.

The BPO industry reduced the average age of newcomers to the workforce and brought challenges to manage scale, new work timings, and talent preferences. Retail faced the challenge to acquire and develop new skills and manage large scale attrition. Similarly the IT/ITES and telecom boom resulted in intense competition for talent acquisition and engagement.

These sectors, however, have introduced pioneering process innovation practices to the Indian industry such as continuous improvement, six-sigma, and TQM that were imported from other industries.

Myth #2― Incremental improvement is not innovation

Organizations often tend to think that innovations can only be large scale. Some of the most innovative companies of the world, such as Apple and Oracle, have shown that they’ve managed to stay ahead in the innovation race due to a culture of small innovations. It is, therefore, important for an organization to recognize incremental process improvements as innovation and reward them accordingly. Two examples that demonstrate the power of incremental innovations in hiring are Mancer Consulting and Genpact. Mancer Consulting relies heavily on sourcing from the passive talent pool. While identifying passive candidates, Mancer also engages with the personal network of prospective passive candidates (friends and family) to generate interest and hype. Mancer has realized that this small adjustment to their passive candidate sourcing process has resulted in higher conversion rates. Genpact solicits inputs from the team while hiring a manager. Genpact realized that this small improvement has resulted in selecting candidates that are a better fit with the organizational culture and higher engagement within teams.

Myth #3― Process innovation happens “on-the-job”

The most common myth surrounding process innovations is that process innovation happens “on-the-job,” and therefore they will happen inevitably. In this age of quarterly and annual targets, almost everyone is looking to execute immediate goals. Innovation, therefore takes a backseat. It is important for a manager to allow and support innovation within the team. Sue Marks reveals an important question that a manager should ask himself every day to drive process innovation, “How can I motivate people to get out of the circle of doing things conventionally?”

Varun Talwar, CEO of the angel investment company The HR Fund says that the relationship between an organization and employees is like that of a parent and a child. It is difficult for a parent to break out from the, “don’t do this” mindset. Restrictive mindsets, however, hinder innovation. The only way to become an innovative organization is by encouraging and supporting small improvements that pave the way for large innovations.


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Topics: Life @ Work, Watercooler

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