Ingenuity of human thoughts, leading to mind-blowing breakthrough business opportunities and possibilities, can never be replaced by bots. That the mundane and day-to-day is taken care of by the ‘wired’ organism — AI, bots and machines floating over Clouds; it’s time to unleash the organization and people towards making Orbit-shifts.
The organism is getting lots of love and affection from businesses and its spreading fast. The possibility of a full blown colonization seems very real — quite an unsettling thought. However, this change, like any change, presents us with exciting opportunities, only if we choose to see and embrace it. The most seductive and powerful of these opportunities is ‘Building an innovative workforce’. With the right culture, practices and methods, systems and structures, an innovative workforce will be able to conceive, pursue and execute game-changing leaps and transformative solutions leading to quantum impact. In essence, a workforce that will pursue Orbit-shifts, create new value as against merely maintaining the current — a dire need for every organization today.
Given the colonization, what makes ‘Building an innovative workforce’, a great opportunity?
Firstly, any successful pursuit of the innovation agenda, manifesting as a differentiated offering, process, business model or strategy, is fundamentally a human endeavor. A successful innovation pursuit calls for having the mindset of a ‘challenger’, with the ability to uncover unstated market needs, challenge wide-held industry and organizational mental models and come up with creative business propositions — things that the organism can’t. The ‘wired’ organism can powerfully learn logic, develop algorithms if fed with volumes of data. More often than not, this data is representative of current and past trends/scenarios. The organism can ‘predict, suggest’ and may be even decide but never ‘imagine’ — a trait solely vested with us humans. Ingenuity of human thoughts can never be replaced by bots. Hence, creating an organization that unleashes and channelizes people’s imagination becomes mission critical.
Secondly, talking of businesses, in the last decade and a half, receptivity towards innovation has tremendously increased. What was earlier a desirable, nice-to have corporate brand badge is today seen as a key driver for growth and profitability. ‘Optimization’, which is pursed rigorously today, is going to become a commodity with the advent of the ‘wired’ organism, forcing organizations to differentiate through innovation. An innovative workforce with the right paraphernalia is going to provide a ‘ready-state’ for organizations to think and action their innovation agenda, thereby creating powerful end-market differentiation.
Thirdly, the attraction and traction points for today’s workforce are fundamentally different. Conventional drivers like stability, security and flashy perks are secondary for them. Their primary ask is a powerful, meaningful ‘purpose’ to work towards. They are ‘experimenters’ deriving their gratification from pursuit of ‘out-of-the-box’. An ‘organization for innovation’ would provide a fertile, infectious playground for this workforce, for it democratizes innovation which otherwise would continue to remain elitist.
There are some great examples of initiatives taken by organizations towards building an innovative workforce and the rich dividends they have earned as an outcome is there for us to see.
Take the case of Titan Jewelry Business, which created the famed Innovation School of Management for its supply chain division. Employees, in teams, work on impossible, current and futuristic innovation challenges in front of the business. In a span of 20 weeks, teams navigate these challenges systematically to come up with breakthrough solutions and prototype them as well. These teams have thought of and executed possibilities which have left even the leading domain experts across the world speechless.
One team has created a 420X jump in the productivity of a globally benchmarked manufacturing process — a first in the world while another, tripled the capacity of their plant without adding any manpower and several more such Orbit-shifts were achieved. Today about 60 percent of the workforce are innovators and the innovation school has contributed significantly to the bottom line of the organization. Anand Group, a USD1.2 Billion auto-component group, has institutionalized innovation in 7 group companies. Anand group has created a robust innovation ecosystem where innovation happens by-design. About 1300 employees have been enabled to pursue innovation challenges on an on-going basis. For every six yearly KRA, each of these innovation champions, taken on an impossible innovation challenge — Innovation is a habit here.
These organizations have not just reskilled or upskilled their workforce. They have fundamentally repurposed them. Quantum Leaps achieved in these organizations cannot be achieved by an algorithm running on a machine. These were solely the outcomes of a passionate, creative human pursuit; outcomes of an innovative workforce. Instead of letting innovation be accidental and personality-centric, they have created a workforce who can make innovation happen by-design. Instead of innovation being a cream layer of skill, limited to high performers, they have made every employee achieve high performance through innovation. Innovation has become a norm of engagement within these organizations.
Every business rides on a ‘factor of eternal assurance’. A laundry business’s deep, unstated belief is that as long as there are human beings, they would clothe, which would need a wash-cycle, assuring an eternal continuity of business. For insurance, it is ‘life security’. For automobiles, it is ‘mobility’. These factors of eternal assurances are anchored around the market needs, which as we know, would undergo massive changes time-to-time. The future ‘factor of eternal assurance’ which organizations should build and capitalize on is the ‘innovative workforce’. Such a workforce can never put an organization out of business even if the entire industry shuts down, for they would have already identified newer core opportunities and adjacencies for the organization.
Now, what does this mean for the L&D function?
L&D plays a critical but often a thankless ‘supplier’ role within an organization — mid-year performance reviews, identifying capability gaps, personalized training plan and interventions, catering to specific requirements from the business leaders — the services offered are cool and plenty. There is consensus omnium amongst L&D fraternity around ‘evolving to stay relevant & valuable’.
However, to build the organizational innovation capacity and for businesses to successfully leverage the innovation opportunities, the role of L&D needs to undergo a tectonic shift — not just catalysts, evangelists or partners but Strategic Capability Architects.
Architects who can influence and shape the business vision and innovation agenda, whose business and end market understanding is superior, who are able to create and catch market trends and influence the business to build the innovation capability needed for them to be cutting-edge in the market. And the new role sounds cool too!