Reflecting back over accomplishments and challenges can create clarity for the future.

As part of Innov8rs Connect, our virtual summit hosted early December 2019, we asked corporate innovators across industries to reflect back on 2019 and share their proudest accomplishments, greatest challenges, and best piece of advise for others. Here's a summary of their reflections.

What are you most proud of in 2019?

Lean Startup Mindsets at a Multi-National Telecommunications Firm

Susana Jurado has accomplished a lot in seven years as Head of Innovation Portfolio at Telefónica Spain. Susana has implemented a framework for intrapreneurship at the multinational telecommunications company, and as a result incubated 70 ventures have been incubated, and 18 ventures were successfully transferred to business units.

So while Susana achieved measurable results, her proudest accomplishments in 2019 were less easy to quantify. In seven years, she's tracked a shift toward a culture of continuous improvement. By now, continuously learning, evolving, and looking forward has become a mindset at Telefónica. And other organizations within the Telefónica group have adopted intrapreneur and lean startup mindsets.

"This may seem like a small thing to be proud of," says Susana, but achieving a shift in culture is no small feat. She's proud to be part of a team that's inspired a fail-fast mindset and a persistent approaches to solving problems.

"The reality is that being a pioneer requires a lot of experimentation to solve challenges that keep emerging."

Creating Ideas with Impact in Agriculture

2019 was an interesting year for Niki Neumann, the General Manager of Innovation & Strategy at AFGRI, one of the world's largest agricultural service companies based out of South-Africa. "Essentially," she says, "we operate in a company that's over 100 years old. in one of the most traditional industries on the planet." Despite the fact Niki faces cultural barriers to innovation, she's proud to watch leadership across businesses and units begin to embrace innovation.

"I'm really proud that we have a bigger purpose, and that's really to to drive food security and innovative solutions into the agricultural sector."

Last year was the first time Niki formed successful partnerships with external innovation teams to collaborate. Niki found that bringing together different individuals and skill sets from different companies could solve challenges that were too big for AFGRI's innovation team to tackle solo. Yet at the same time, partnerships have also introduced new complexities, some of which were unforeseen before the collaboration initiative launched. Niki had to balance shifting strategies while coordinating efforts between multiple dynamic organizations.

In the months ahead, Niki will finally see the culmination of her biggest project in 2019 and her career at AFGRI. She's months away from a new business launch which represents the first time her innovation team has taken an idea from the earliest concept stages to market. According to Niki, she's particularly proud to have incubated an idea which will have greater benefits to society and influence values like food security.

What challenges have you overcome in 2019, and how?

Measuring the Non-Financial Returns of Innovation

Alignment and balance were among the biggest challenges Senior HR Manager Juliane Frenzl faced last year at Konica Minolta Europe. Konica Minolta is a Japanese multinational technology corporation, and according to Juliane, a "very outcome-focused organization." To win buy-in for ideas, Juliane was continuously tasked with demonstrating tangible results from past and current innovation initiatives.

While Juliane sees the cultural value of tangible results, she's struggled to communicate the greater impact of innovation investments, and she wonders whether her program is ultimately about people or innovation and technology. They are seeing a great benefit on people's motivation and retention, and how people evolve in their careers.

Juliane is continuously challenged to prove the return-on-investment of ideas through technologies. At the same time, she increasingly recognizes that many benefits of corporate innovation are financial. Soft benefits on human capital are real, but they're much harder to measure and quantify than tech deployments. In her experience, innovation drives real benefits for human productivity and engagement.

Breaking Barriers to Open Collaboration

There's no shortage of innovators at ENGIE, according to France-based Innovation Director Csilla Monfils. "We're present in 70 countries with 60 billion euro turnover and about 160,000 employees," she says. "So it's quite a large group and therefore quite a large innovation ecosystem."

Innovation is definitely everywhere at ENGIE. For the past 35 years, the multinational energy corporation has sponsored an annual innovation competition which receives, on average, 500 submissions. 15 finalists are selected to receive awards, but there's little understanding of how these winners fare after the award ceremony. Historically, there had been little effort to track the business outcomes award-winning ideas.

Csilla recognized several key challenges to tracking, measuring, and centralizing innovation efforts at ENGIE:

  • A need to scale innovation projects beyond the ideation phase to create momentum in a disruptive business climate.
  • Decentralized business units fostered independent ideation toward individual goals, instead of global collaboration around shared targets
  • Geographic, technological, and cultural barriers made it difficult to combine creative energy and colalborate

Csilla knew the end goal, which was to make sure the best innovations at ENGIE actually made it to market and created impact. She recognized that in order to pool creative energy, she needed to create synergy between innovators in 70 global countries. Her first step was to make sure technology was an enabler instead of a barrier to collaboration. First, she removed barriers between internal and external innovation systems to establish a single, shared system for global ideation.

"We are trying to make sure that this innovation platform really brings complete transparency... and help us utilize the tremendous ideas database."

Since implementing the new shared technology platform, Csilla has continued to remove barriers to global collaboration and improve the chances that winning ideas make it to market. One recent project has been an effort to improve resource access for the brightest innovators at ENGIE. Idea finalists are now interviewed during the innovation contest to create a picture of what's needed to successfully pilot and launch the idea. Csilla has created a catalog of internal and external resources to make sure award-winning ideas have the best chance of long-term success.

What’s your unique sauce?

Leveraging Diverse Skills and Knowledge

"We don't see ourselves as an island," says Jörn Leogrande, the EVP of Innovation Labs at Wirecard AG, a global internet technology and financial services firm. Inclusion is a core message of his company's innovation outreach strategy to create broad support and interest. Their secret sauce is to leverage the whole company, which Leogrande accomplishes with workshops, events and innovation challenges. He has found that people really open up when you offer them tools and instruments to come up with and manage innovative ideas.

Jörn perceives his team's structure as another advantage. His colleague Head of Innovation Sara Maki agrees that Jörn has done an excellent job of curating an innovation team for both skills and chemistry. She stresses the importance for A lab innovation team to have a very unique blend of skills and mindset. While the Wirecard AG innovation team is small, it's also a diverse mixture. Product and innovation experts have different backgrounds which include experience in consulting, startups, finance, and some psychologists.

Awareness, Acceleration, and Governance

There are three ingredient's in Line Lyst's secret sauce, but the recipe for her success can be summarized in one word — balance. As Group Director and Head of Innovation at Ramboll in Denmark, Line is poised to guide her company through upcoming waves of disruption. Ramboll is a consulting engineering group with 15,500 employees and a global presence. Line's approach to innovation is driven by industry awareness, a structured accelerator program, and strong governance for innovation.

Ingredient #1: The Disruption Radar

"We have a disruption radar where we have mapped 1,200 startups in our field." says Line. "They are mapped based on the level of funding they have received and the kind of disruption they represent." The radar is a compass for market trends. It helps Line's innovation team decide where they'll focus based on emerging patterns and risks. "If you wait until you see an innovation in the market, it's too late."

Ingredient #2: The Innovation Accelerator

The Ramboll Accelerator is a 6-month program, that invites all employees to participate and respond to calls for ideas based on Disruption Radar trends. 25 ideas are selected from an average of 250 idea submissions. The first group of finalists is selected based entirely on the potential value for customers, instead of financial or technological feasibility.

The first batch of 25 winning ideas are sent to an experimentation phase, where Ramboll "tightens the grip:" Candidates are narrowed based on strict tests on customer desirability, scalability potential and technical requirements. Out of 250 initial submissions, just 5 teams are selected to reach the final stage in the Ramboll Accelerator, where according to Line, "it becomes tough." The next phase involves a look at the sales pipeline, customer conversion rates, and retention. Innovation teams are also tested based on projections of sales, costs, revenue, and investments.

Ingredient #3: Managing Innovation

Line defines innovation management as "all the things that need to happen around the innovation team." Management is a foundation that includes governance, support, KPIs, stakeholder management, and executive support.

"I think we have managed to strike a good balance between having governance and measures in place on one side and still provide the innovation teams with a budget and freedom to operate."

What Do You See as the Most Important Trends in Corporate Innovation in 2020 and Beyond?

Four-Dimensional Innovation and Sustainability

Elena Mueller is the Gobal Head of Venture Management at Schaeffler, a Germany-originated manufacturer. Elena believes corporate innovation is on the cusp of a major change in how it's perceived. Increasingly, she believes innovation programs will become "four dimensional." Instead of a one-dimensional focus on ideas, Elena believes the next trend in corporate innovation will be to blend ideas with people, technology, and business. Elena also believes sustainability is an emerging trend in corporate innovation.

"Is it doing something good? Or is it doing something good for the planet?"

An Ecosystem Mindset

Alexandre Bastos, Global Innovation Director of Givaudin in Switzerland, believes the next big corporate innovation trend is an ecosystem mindset. By seeing the bigger picture, he predicts teams can approach the earliest stages of ideation with more impact. An ecosystem mindset can vet an idea based on the potential to disrupt entire business models and industries.

Disruption is about more than just inventions or technologies, it's about impact and how one idea impacts people, surrounding technologies, and process. According to Bastos, looking at the entire ecosystem around an idea can help forecast the bigger impact."If you have this mindset from the beginning, I think we can do amazing things together."

Conclusion: Be Confident, Collaborative and Purpose-Driven

When asked to share their best piece of advice for peers, there was a resounding call for collaboration. It's not easy to be a change agent, however, the results are well worth every challenge on the road to change. It's crucial to create communities to share experience and learn from others.

"I think that working in corporate innovation is a privilege because it gives you the opportunity to learn something new every day and that's something amazing," says Susana Jurado "I'm not saying it's an easy job because it's not, but it makes every day exciting." She believes communities of corporate innovators can learn a lot from each other by sharing experiences.

"I believe the road less traveled is worth every setback. So I will implore everyone to continue on their journeys and be willing to talk more openly about the challenges that you face. Don't stop striving for something big," says Niki Neumann.

Keen to understand how other companies are doing innovation? Join Innov8rs Barcelona to hear from Susana Jurado, Csilla Monfils, Jörn Leogrande and 12+ corporate innovators on stage, sharing their approaches, their successes and failures, and lessons learned.

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