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A Great Place to Work® FOR ALL: Innovation through Diverse Inclusion

When Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister of India, stated that the Millennial mindset of preferring to use ride-hailing services such as Ola and Uber instead of purchasing vehicles was one of the main reasons behind the worst slowdown that the Indian automobile sector has seen since the 1970s, what followed was an outburst from economists and millennials alike. However, the 2019 Deloitte Global Automotive Consumer Study found that 51% of Gen Y and Z in India, who use ride-hailing apps, are questioning whether they should own a personal vehicle going forward. What this example illustrates, is the indisputable fact that consumer behavior is evolving over time and is certainly different for varied market demographics. If organizations do not have enough representation of these market segments within their own workforce, or do not know how to tap these employees, they are bound to lose out on correctly identifying customer needs as well as innovative ideas that could lead to breakthrough growth in these markets. Businesses today do not have the luxury of conventional methods as Henry Ford did in the 1900s when he said, “A customer can have a car painted any color he wants as long as it’s black.” Creating a diverse workforce and using their prowess and experience in co-creating products and services to cater to the diverse customer base is not just a politically correct move, but the only way to not go out of existence.

At Great Place to Work®, our mission of helping organizations create a Great Place to Work FOR ALL® does not end with hiring merely for diversity & inclusion. The second aspect of focus in this article series is what we call Innovation By All and For All. As per one of the Great Place to Work® research in the US, companies with high-trust workplace cultures see faster rates of success by inviting every employee into the innovation process. As per our research from the annual Best Companies to Work For in India Study, 2019; 85% of employees in Best workplaces feel that their management genuinely seeks and responds to suggestions and ideas, while this number stands at only 73% for the rest of the organizations. In our study, in addition to the standard questionnaire, Great Place to Work® also ran a survey on ‘Culture of Innovation’. We assessed the Culture of innovation across 3 dimensions – Inspiration, Empowerment, and Culture.  When we deep-dive further, we find a huge disparity in the inclusion of all employees across demographics in the innovation and bottom-up collaboration process.

Best workplaces have taken some strides in bridging these gaps through initiatives that not only invite diverse groups to the party and ask them to dance, but also empower them to be a part of the organizing committee!

 

1. Bottom-up Collaboration Forums:

Siemens, for instance, has adopted the tagline – ‘Ingenuity for life’, and believes that innovative ideas are a part of its DNA. They run the Siemens Innovation Program in India which is a collaborative initiative that endeavors to bring together different minds and perspectives to create new possibilities across various disciplines and markets. The Collaborative Idea Platform enables employees to submit new ideas, vote, converse, engage and more. While Innovation day, Siemens Hackathons and Futureland are platforms to encourage idea sharing and bring innovation in the way they work and operate.

SAP Labs’SAP Blue’ allows employees to post their ideas and find colleagues who are interested in executing these technical or non-technical projects. Through their various forums such as ‘Changemakers’ – employee-driven ideation and decision-making platform envisage to crowdsource ideas from the employees and work collaboratively with the senior management to create the blueprint for employee engagement. Their Idea management tool’ enables employees to share ideas on a product or process innovation. The SAP Market Model and their SAP Retail Execution mobile app that enables consumer product manufacturers to enhance their sales execution with retailers anywhere and anytime are both products that emerged through the SAP Blue initiative. Similarly, Think Tank flagship event by Mahindra Finance serves as a platform for the high potential talent to resolve critical and strategic business challenges. Under the guidance of handpicked internal and external mentors, cross-functional teams work on real-time projects. The results are presented to the Steering Committee, post which the possibility of implementation is further explored.

2. Inclusion of varied perspectives in innovation:

Other than Mahindra’s renowned Shadow board initiative where the younger generations come together and work on current or forward-looking business challenges, Mahindra & Mahindra AFS also organizes MTalk which provides a TED-like platform for young talent to present their views, perspectives or ideas in a large group format. Idea Drive is also used to channel diverse ideas from across AFS to help get inputs from every possible cross-section of the employee base and create a policy that will have something for everyone. Over 60% of Intuit India comprises millennials.

They created the Next Gen Network (NGN), where the workforce of the present and the future come together to drive outcomes beyond their core roles; across themes like early careers, tech learning, mentorship and peer learning. The NGN charter revolves around technology, engagement, sports, and ‘We Care and Give Back’ activities. They organized the #In24Hrs Hackathon which was focused on designing for disability and powering the prosperity of small businesses in India through various Intuit products.

 

 

Generally, organizations try to initiate forums to encourage innovation from within their organization. Ericsson went one step ahead with their Girls who Innovate initiative. It is an ‘open challenge’ to school-going, young female innovators to imagine how technology can change the future of education. Students win job shadow days, an opportunity to share their thoughts on the Ericsson Careers blog and in social media features. The winners receive a large monetary prize as well, intended to be used for educational purposes. This initiative is a step towards enhancing the gender balance within the ICT industry and STEM studies as well as their commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Cisco doesn’t just bring their executives to its employees. They also bring their employees – and their opinions – to their executives. Every year, 400-plus Cisco leaders come together for an intense executive summit focused on defining company strategy for the next 12 months, identifying gaps and opportunities, reviewing talent strategy, and building teams. These Summits now also have diverse Employee panels entirely made up of Cisco employees from around the world. The purpose is to have an open, candid dialogue with Cisco executives about what’s working, what’s not working, what’s changed in the past year, and how the executive staff can take action to help.

Leading travel utility retailer, VIP involved not only a cross-functional group of VHippies but also their blue-collar employees through Project Unnati. The objective of this project was to identify various opportunities to bring about cost optimization within the organization. The entire ideation process was based on the Design Thinking model. As the funnel at each stage was much larger, the ratios of time, investment and resources in each step decreased, directly adding to the bottom-line of the company.  While People Combine, an Education Consulting & Management firm, runs an initiative called ‘Collaborative Planning Time’. Teachers have a collaborative planning time every Friday to discuss trans-disciplinary approaches to teaching across the grade levels. For example, biology, sports and mathematics teachers might come together to teach circulatory system through a sports demo where students play sports of different intensities and then use mathematics to plot their heart rate on graphs and then understand the reason for the difference in the pulse rates from a biological point of view. Bringing together this diversity in views culminates into an enriching experience for their end-customers, i.e. young students!

3. Resources and empowerment provided:

Titan’s Ignitor is a unique program launched in 2013 that aims to channel their employees’ entrepreneurial capabilities while reviving Titan’s start-up spirit. Employees submit business plans that could be taken up by Titan. The plans are evaluated for their business potential, fit with Titan’s vision, values and business plans, and the execution ability of the team involved. Identified teams get the resources and the freedom to execute their plans for a period of 12 weeks. The resources provided by Titan to the teams include Office space specially created for and by the teams, called Ignitor Labs, Seed Funding and also Mentoring by senior executives and external experts. During this period, individuals are released from their regular jobs to work on their chosen project, while receiving their remuneration. After 12 weeks, in case the project does not take off, they have the assurance of returning to their jobs. This provides assurance and eliminates any fear of failure. The initiative evoked a tremendous response and three proposals were finally selected of which Taneira, Titan’s newest venture is already 2 stores strong.

4. Recognition for Innovation and tolerance of failure:

Recognizing innovation and not penalizing honest mistakes is a critical aspect of fostering a culture of innovation. The Mahindra Innovation awards and Innovation Mela is a platform conceptualized to motivate employees by providing visibility to their innovative work. The Mela is a display of all innovation projects that reach Stage 3 of the Mahindra Innovation Awards as well as the Winner of the Failed Innovations category. It acts as a learning and reference platform for other employees and businesses. The display of failures also encourages risk-taking behavior among their employees.

Impact of Innovation by All

Helen Keller rightly said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

By focusing on Innovation By All, organizations are able to operate with greater agility, beat sales targets, and outperform the competition. A study by Great Place to Work® USA found that Companies that build an Innovation By All culture generate more high-quality ideas, realize greater speed in implementation, and achieve greater agility— resulting in 5.5 times the revenue growth of peers with a less inclusive approach to innovation.

As per Godrej Culture Lab’s ‘Trans Inclusion Manifesto’, discrimination against the LGBTQ community is costing India 1.7% in potential GDP (Approximately USD 32 Billion). There is also a significant loss in terms of brain drain due to talent migration of people from the LGBTQ community since most of the Indian organizations are not LGBTQ friendly yet. When Subaru, an American car manufacturer, hired Martina Navratilova, former tennis pro, who identifies herself as a lesbian, followed by a marketing campaign – ‘It’s not a choice, it’s the way we are built’ focus on the LGBTQ market segment, the brand emerged as the instant favorite in the target audience. Similarly, the P&G Vicks advertisement showcasing trans motherhood led to a spike in sales as well as international accolades for the brand.

Another example of the business impact achieved through the involvement of all employees in innovation and decision-making is the Quality Circles at Godrej Consumer Products. This simple initiative has given employees a platform to showcase their ideas and solutions to the management and has brought about a transformation across manufacturing locations. At Malanpur, for instance, more than 90% of their employees are part of Quality circles. A Total of 40+ QC’s working continuously on improvement projects has led to an annual saving of about INR 2 Crores. More than 40% of these projects have been showcased and won accolades at regional and national levels.

As per the India CEO Outlook 2019 report by KPMG, 67% of CEOs in India agree that acting with agility is the new currency of business if they want to remain relevant. In addition to investment in innovation processes, organizations are also putting in efforts to foster a culture of innovation, with 80% of CEOs in India wanting their employees to feel empowered to innovate, without worrying about negative consequences. We hope that the steps taken by these Best workplaces inspire many more of their peers to widen the scope of employee involvement and build a culture that fosters Innovation by ALL and For ALL and in turn leads to being Better for People, Better for Business and Better for the World. Start your journey on this path and Great Place to Work® will be delighted to support you through the way!

Bibliography:

  • Deloitte Global Automotive Consumer Study, 2019
  • A Manifesto for Trans Inclusion in the Indian Workplace – Godrej Culture Lab
  • India CEO Outlook 2019 – KPMG

For comments on this article, or research collaborations with Great Place to Work® India, Kindly reach out at: In_Research@greatplacetowork.com

 

– Lead Author: Ms. Arfa Shaikh (Sr. Consultant),
Data Analysis: Ms. Twinkle Joshi (Sr. Analyst).

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