Tag Archives: Corporates

The Four Legs of a Holistic Model for Corporate Innovation

From being considered a downright accusation, to connoting invention, the term ‘innovation’ gained currency in its contemporary form, thanks to Joseph Schumpeter, in the 1940s.

For the corporate world, it has since meant a luxury, a tool for growth, a tool for differentiation, and more recently, the only way to lead and stay relevant in the market. In this context, the animal called innovation architecture requires four legs. In my work, I often deal with one or more of them and the questions they pose.

 

  1. The Agenda

The Innovation Agenda of a firm is closely connected to its brand position. What does the firm stand for? Why has the firm chosen this path? How is it different from any other firm out there?

 

  1. The Strategic Vision

The strategic vision includes the sketch of what innovation should achieve for the firm. What are the main goals of the business – for the long, medium and short term? What type(s) of innovation will the firm focus on – product, process, business model, delivery? Where could innovation draw inspiration from – technology, customers, partners, internal synergies? How will innovation be measured and monitored – metrics that take into account new products, new markets, productivity gains, financial gains, and intellectual property?

 

  1. The Process

The innovation process is the engine that keeps the focus on outcomes detailed in the vision. What is the method for ideation and funnelling of ideas? What are the rules for team-formation, collaboration, resource authorisation and crisis management? What is the planning and measuring mechanism for prototyping and in-market launches? What is the mechanism for risk management? What is the mechanism for ensuring sustainability of the new introduction?

 

  1. The Enablers

These are the behind-the-scenes workers, often termed the ‘input factors’ for innovation. What are the knowledge management systems and learning tools for the enabling innovation? What is the common language used for innovation within the organisation?What are the elements of organisational culture that are conducive to innovation; how are these being inculcated and multiplied? What are the organisation structures and governance mechanisms that allow innovation to germinate, proliferate, and become self-sustaining? What are the reward mechanisms for those who contribute to the innovation economy of the organisation?

 

For most companies, building this architecture is a serendipitous journey. And with each successful journey is born a successful model of innovation.

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Corporate Email Writing, the Science and the Art

Call it a boon, call it a bane, but emails have become an integral part of modern work life. Even so, I am often surprised at how little training one receives at the workplace on how to write an email. One cause for this neglect is perhaps the way that the email first came into our lives – as a medium for social connection. It did not start out as a replacement for formal letters.

 

I recall vividly the section on ‘letter writing’ at every language exam while in high school, where points/ marks would get added or deducted depending on whether certain elements of letter-writing were in place or not. Now that emails have largely replaced office mail, it behooves the question, ‘what should be the critical elements of an email?’ That’s the science…

 

Then there’s the question of what function an email must serve. What does one want as a result of an email? Communication, of course, but to what effect? If an email has not had a desired effect, it has essentially failed as a piece of communication. Writing an email must achieve the desired result. That’s the art…

 

The Science of Email Writing

 

To, CC, BCC

 

The first field, ‘To’, is a no-brainer, isn’t it? Not really…because it often overpowers the ‘CC’ field, when really the latter needs to be used. Add people to the ‘To’ list when they are the specific persons who need to respond to your email.

 

Anybody else that you might think of should be in the CC field because they probably fall into one of the following categories:

  • to be kept informed because of common goals, such as a team member;
  • to be kept informed because of hierarchical relevance to the subject, such as an immediate boss, yours and/ or the addressee’s; or
  • to be kept in the loop because of the potential for influencing the outcome of the email, such as a super-boss or a critical senior executive. ‘Influence’ is a big catalyst in achieving the desired response to corporate email.

 

Learn to curb the temptation to add people to the CC list – not everybody needs to be in on each email. Similarly, don’t hit Reply All unless it is necessary.

 

The BCC field, unfortunately, is just a bad idea for corporate email because it has ‘sneaky’ written all over it. It is best reserved for social/ unofficial email or mass ‘forwards’ where it doesn’t matter to the addressees what the identity of the other addressees is.

 

Subject

 

Despite the number of times that each of us has probably had points deducted for not having included a subject for our letter-writing assignment while at school, many people don’t realize that they MUST have a subject line in an email. It makes it easier for the reader to read, prioritise and act upon your email if (s)he knows what the topic of discussion is. Use the Subject field to your advantage by making it as relevant to the communication as possible.

 

Greeting/ Sign-off

 

Choose your greeting based on the following criteria:

  • The rapport/ relationship that you share with the addressee(s)
  • The frequency of interaction with the addressee(s)
  • Whether the interaction on the current subject is an ongoing one or an initial one
  • Whether the email is likely to be sent forward to other persons, internal or external to the organisation

 

The Art of Email Writing

 

No, I didn’t forget to include the Body of the email. That is actually where the ‘art’ comes in.

 

Human beings tend to see the world in terms of calendars and clocks, i.e. in a chronological sequence. This is a great tool, psychologically, to keep track of things. However, it is rather antithetical to corporate prioritization (Is this email important?) and decision-making (How should I respond?) The email writer has a huge opportunity to make these two processes more efficient.

 

Conventional wisdom tells us to follow these steps:

  • Provide the ‘Background’ for the email;
  • List the steps that have already happened in the sequence of events since the background, often accompanied by the evidence to prove that they happened;
  • Put forward the current situation and circumstances, and, finally,
  • Raise the request/ question or state the directive, etc.

 

Very common sensical, isn’t it? But here’s the catch. Depending on the context, such an email could be four lines (at least) to one and a half pages (or more) long. Who wants to read page-long emails before they are told what is expected of them? For all the time-saving hacks that corporate productivity gurus talk about, shouldn’t shorter emails be on top of the list? I signed up to the email charter five years ago and it has saved me a lot of work and I’m sure it has saved the recipients of my emails a lot of time.

 

Alternative wisdom would use the same elements but in a different flow:

  • State the main reason for writing the email – raising the request/ question or stating the directive, etc. This is the main response desired/ action you want taken as a result of the email.
  • Provide the rationale (at most five points) for the reason above
  • List the attachments, if any, that you’ve provided to be read for anybody who needs more details, with a short description of what’s in each attachment. These attachments could include the ‘Background’ and the sequence of relevant events, among other things.
  • Plug in the attachments.

 

Voila! Your email is now two brief lines with, perhaps, a small set of bullet points for support. The best part about a short email that states the desired outcome at the top is that is it has a higher chance of actually being read and, hence, responded to.

 

Get more from less with your next email.

 

 

Guard Against These Eight Myths to Fuel Corporate Innovation

Anybody who has had the good fortune to work in a startup as well as in a corporatised environment will know that corporate innovation is an animal by itself. To make that animal move and keep it going, critical myths must be busted.

 

Myth #1: Innovation is all about ideas.

 

Truth: Innovation is as much about knowledge-sharing, collaboration and execution. As innovation becomes ‘the’ way of doing things for firms, the emerging structures of team formation and work allocation demand increasing openness of channels for communication and feedback. The devil, of course, remains in the details. Hence, systematic follow-through of ideas and their execution determines success.

 

When structuring the innovation process, bear in mind that there is a grimy and messy back end beyond the warm and fuzzy front end of innovation.

 

Myth #2: Innovation must be disruptive and create a white space.

 

Truth: While this could be true for an entity that is looking to establish itself as a player in the market (check out RentSher and MealTango) for the corporate engine that wants to weave innovation into its DNA, it is more likely to be incremental, addressing the core business.

 

Encourage employees to make incremental improvements to routine activities. The impact of innovation activity is only magnified when even the mundane gets a productivity boost.

 

Myth #3: Innovation means creating new products.

 

Truth: Early literature on metrics for corporate innovation is responsible for the belief in this myth. In reality, innovation also includes creating new processes and business models. Doblin, the innovation consulting firm, has in fact noted ten types of innovation in three categories. Some of the highest impact innovations have come about through business model innovation (think #Uber) and process innovation (think Aravind Eye Care).

 

Look beyond just product development. The gold could be elsewhere.

 

Myth #4: Innovation is the domain of R&D departments.

 

Truth: A corollary to the previous point, innovation can also be brought about by other functions. You can only build a culture of innovation in a company if all employees believe that they have a role to play. Just as innovation does not comprise product development alone, it is not the reserve of R&D teams alone.

 

Get all hands on deck.

 

Myth #5: Innovation happens at the grassroots.

 

Truth: Innovation requires a linkage of bottom-up and top-down approaches.

Innovation does require a willingness to defy convention, an attribute that tends to decline with increasing seniority. Hence, the bottom-up approach is necessary to fuel innovation. However, complex pivot points that involve decision-making accompany innovation projects. These are perhaps better addressed in a top-down fashion. Note, however, that the person who ‘knows’ more is not necessarily the person who innovates better.

 

Define scope and authority for the teams at the bottom as well as the executives at the top.

 

Myth #6: Innovation requires highly creative and intelligent workers.

 

Truth: In reality, innovation more often requires highly networked workers. Innovation success comes from carefully structuring the process for consistently better results. In fact, superior talent could serve to mask organisational inefficiencies. Instead, a well thought out innovation process would lead to more predictable results despite variability in talent.

 

Break processes down into well-defined steps; then talent will not matter much.

 

Myth #7: Innovation should be remunerated monetarily to increase employee motivation.

 

Truth: Innovation thrives on increasing degrees of empowerment – self-directed use of time, resources (human and capital) and authority. The battle between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be best seen in the case of innovation projects. In the long run, and a company is concerned with the long run, it is factors that help build intrinsic motivation that keep the innovation engine going.

 

Cater for serendipity and blurring of boundaries. Monetary rewards are an afterthought.

 

Myth #8: Innovation requires large capital outlays.

 

Truth: Innovation is often most successful when capital is constrained. Constraints engender creativity and novelty. They also foster sustainability and endurance. But most of all, they help focus efforts on the problem that must be solved rather than on administrative detailing.

 

Give your innovation project teams enough to work with but not everything they ask for.

 

Corporate innovation is a marathon, not a sprint.