22 Dec 2016 15:19 IST

Welcome to the Ideating Organisation

Innovate or perish: this is pushing India Inc to get creative at the workplace

Over a decade ago, Google came up with its 80/20 programme: employees had to set aside 20 per cent of their office time for creative side projects. This was the programme that famously led to the creation of Gmail and AdSense. It was also one of the most copied management programmes: many companies realised that without innovation, they would become irrelevant.

So, from tech start-ups to big corporations, quite a few began to blindly imitate Google and Facebook’s open offices, food-on-tap policy, sleep and entertainment zones in a desperate attempt to fuel innovation. Interestingly, Google has pulled the plug on its 80/20 programme and gone in for a more focussed innovation strategy.

Today, companies are realising that merely copying Google won’t do, and are spending time crafting their own innovation programmes. HR heads at India Inc concede that pushing employees to think out of the box has become one of their biggest people agendas, driven by no less than the CEO. From crowdsourcing ideas to pulling out high potentials to intrapreneurship programmes to cash prizes to best innovators to gamification… companies are trying all kinds of things to get their employees get creative. Dilipkumar Khandelwal, Managing Director at SAP Labs India, waxes eloquent about how SAP Labs wants to be the most innovative workplace. “To achieve this, we are promoting a culture of entrepreneurship internally so that we can create ground-up innovations,” he says. SAP Labs, he adds, gives employees the space, the freedom and the platform to create a prototype. What’s more, it’s now even offering a two-year sabbatical to employees who want to become entrepreneurs.

Give us ideas, folks

Companies are desperately seeking innovative ideas. When Vishal Sikka took over the reins at Infosys, one of the first things he did was to roll out a programme called Murmuration, an initiative to crowdsource ideas related to business strategy. Richard Lobo, EVP and Head HR at Infosys, describes how the programme saw thousands of ideas flowing in from employees on topics like Analytics, Process Transformation, Automation, Legacy Modernisation, Deep Client Engagement and Digital Transformation. Over two weeks, 26,000 employees participated and generated 2,650 ideas, which were then evaluated, shortlisted and put up for voting. Finally, 10 winning ideas were selected for execution.

Listening to Ashutosh Telang, Chief Human Resources Officer at Marico, one gets the sense that the FMCG firm has become an ideas factory. There are programmes like Innovation Jams, and initiatives like MarVal (Marico’s Value Enhancement Team) and Marico Young Board – all of them aimed at idea generation. So far, three Innovation Jams have been held (the fourth is under way), and Telang says the company has generated 2,172 ideas.

How it works: teams submit ideas on a given theme and topic, which are reviewed by the Marico Innovation Council. Teams that submit winning ideas get a cash prize and are recognised publicly, and their ideas are then actioned through the Marico Innovation Process. Telang describes MarVal as an initiative to create ‘Eureka’ moments through a digital idea repository and brainstorming sessions. He says it has yielded some incredible breakthrough ideas.

The Young Board is a cross-functional team comprising eight young leaders from different functions whose job is to deliberate on big-bet ideas. “Last year, Marico’s first Young Board worked on three critical areas, including an innovative big-bet business idea,” Telang says.

At Piramal, too, ideas are solicited, but from an identified group of high potentials called ASCEND Entrepreneurs. Says Nandini Piramal, Executive Director, Piramal Enterprises, who oversees the group’s HR function: “As part of their development journey, they work on an ‘Elevator Pitch’, where they come up with innovative ideas in the business or social space.”

The gamification route

From pharma to IT, many companies are also taking the gamification route to get their employees’ creative juices flowing. At Infy, Lobo says, Infy Park is the gamified platform accessible via the Intranet to push engagement and creativity. It is built around the idea of a theme park; employees play scenario-based games and earn points, which pushes them onto a leaderboard.

Piramal says that in the group’s glass packaging company, Piramal Glass, gamification is used extensively to foster innovation and technical excellence. “We have established a robust gamification app in the glass business, which has helped us distill 8,747 ideas worth ₹489 lakh,” she says. “In fact, 1,877 of those ideas worth ₹199 lakh have been validated by the finance department and are being implemented,” she adds.

Design thinking

Arguably the biggest buzzword today when it comes to fostering innovation is ‘design thinking’, a problem-solving process that explores hidden parameters. Virtually every company is driving this — by sending employees on courses on design thinking, or by organising workshops. At Infosys, Lobo says, a large percentage of employees are part of a movement called Zero Distance, created to bring clients and teams closer. “Every employee is encouraged to apply design thinking principles to get closer to client, value and code,” he says.

As the race to become more innovative hots up, companies are starting right at the hiring stage. Candidates are being selected for their ability to think laterally. Holding Hackathons is one way. To put it another way, HR is now forced to think innovatively to get the best out of employees!