There is a thought provoking piece in the November issue of the Harvard Business Review written by James I. Cash, Jr., Michael J. Earl, and Robert Morison. Morison is an executive vice president and director of research at nGenera Corporation, while Earl and Cash are academics at Oxford University and Harvard Business School respectively).
In lots of large corporations, innovation and integration are unnatural acts. Silos block cross functional cooperation and resistance stifles new ideas and concepts.
Cash, Earl, and Morison explore how some companies are overcoming these boundaries by proposing establishing two new types of cross-organizational teams:
• Distributed innovation groups (DIGs) foster innovation throughout the company. For example, they deploy intranet based forums and wikis to scout for promising ideas.
• Enterprise integration groups (EIGs) establish the architecture and management practices essential for business integration. For instance, they identify integration opportunities, channel resources to them, and reconfigure Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems to support ever-tighter crossbusiness collaboration.
During the HCL Global Meet earlier this week I moderated a panel that included Tim Mann, a CIO at financial services firm Skandia, who along with Johnson & Johnson are cited in the article as having a long history of successfully holding senior management conferences to communicate innovations between business units. This citation is a great example of the senior management strategic thinking that differentiates the successful collaborative enterprise from those trapped in silo wars. (One of my talking points with clients is how strategically important it is to find an appropriate place to house a collaboration environment: if you choose to build within an existing silo expect a much harder task driving usage of the 'shared' system by rivals...)
This whole concept of cross pollination across the (often international and cross cultural) business units of large enterprises needs careful thought around how you are asking people to collaborate and communicate together.
A Distributed Innovation Group Is not an R&D group dedicated to product and technological discovery, an innovation function team charged with enacting all stages of the innovation process, a systems development or corporate venturing unit or a centralized office bound staff unit that sets policy and monitors performance.
The remit of DIG's could include, as examples, scouting for new ideas and untapped potential in current technologies, scanning the external environment for emerging technologies, Facilitating participation in idea forums, acting as an innovation expertise center, serving as an incubator for promising innovations and publicizing promising innovations and funds.
We see from the previous two paragraphs the comparison between rigid thinking and flexibility: command and control gives way to some extent to agility and unrestricted experimentation.
The 'enterprise integration' twin sister can anticipate how operations might work in a more integrated fashion in the future by serving as the corporation’s center of expertise in process management and improvement, managing the corporate portfolio of integration initiatives, being responsible for enterprise architecture and providing staff to major business integration initiatives.
Enterprise integration is proposed as the enabler of the distributed innovation groups fruits.
Our panel discussion was pretty pragmatic in comparison to these broad conceptual planks proposed in the Harvard Business Review: some of Tim Mann's comments were around the practicalities of dealing with a younger workforce, including a prescient George Orwell quote:
Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one comes after it.
For Tim some of the the challenges of reconfiguring your business to meet the apparent needs of Generation Y - who will be 40%+ of workforce from 2014 - includes their usually unrealistic expectations of rapid promotion, frequent recognition and stimulating work, access to corporate direction and strategy, a yearning for international travel irrespective of the business case, and the perception of their employer having respectable values, for example Green, Corporate and Social Responsibility.
Tim was deliberately making a somewhat strawman point around 'why should you make the effort to reach out to a generation that is very fluid in their career changes, why train a transient workforce'? His bigger point was that you can't execute the type of concepts I use as an illustration here as prescribed by Cash, Earl, and Morison, or other similar constructs, in a half hearted way - it's all or nothing.
This is why there are so many sparsely populated wikis and blogs slowly twisting in the wind in the corporate world - because they were set up as tentative trial balloons with no clear utility or guidelines for expected use. It's trivial to set up a blog or a wiki from a technical perspective - you could do it in the time it took to read this article - setting up the internal use case to 'scout for promising ideas', for example, takes a great deal more thought and planning.
The real challenge is in finding the key people who have the broad business knowledge, technology expertise, and social skills needed to build relationships both within and outside your company. For me it doesn't matter what generation they come from - these are the core resources that will drive innovation, adoption of associated methodologies and their enabling technologies and the successful execution of usage models.
Despite the global recession, the war is still on for talent.