Hong Kong is currently ranked 16th in the Global Innovation Index and corporate innovation has never been more important in the region than it is now. This innovation is being driven by leaders across many different industries. Following on from our write-ups on insights from Singaporean and Malaysian innovation leaders, find below insights from their neighbours in Hong Kong.
What is the biggest barrier to corporate innovation you’ve encountered and how did or are you overcoming it?
Head of Innovation, HSBC Retail Banking and Wealth Management
“In my humble opinion, the biggest barrier to any type of innovation is a clear definition of the problem statement.
As organisations grow larger they become more complex and often the powerbase focuses on keeping the business running rather than looking out into the future, understanding customers, and falling in love with the problem they were originally designed to solve.
As a result the organisation becomes unbalanced.
The balance falls in favour of processes that deliver existing products in more efficient ways.
Cost saving and efficiency is important in running machine, and one role of innovation players is to automate or simplify these processes.
But that is not the only role innovation needs to play with them and organisation.
Taking new ideas into the organisation from the outside is also an important role to play.
Egos or 'not invented here syndrome' often get in the way and block these external ideas. Many corporate teams do not look outside the industry.
And most commonly people consider innovation to be invention.
There must be resources and time dedicated to thinking about how unique the organisation is, the problems that customers are currently facing and will face in the future, and new inventions that could solve these challenges.”
Expert in Corporate Innovation
“By far the biggest barrier to innovation is us, the human factor. Change management is a key hurdle that needs to be addressed from the beginning of any corporate innovation effort. There are a few components that are critical to consider. The leadership team and specifically the CEO needs to be openly supportive of the innovation program and demonstrate it to the entire staff. Key members of the organization need to be part of the innovation process so that their involvement early on and can support the implementation later on.
Especially in more traditional industries, the rollout plan requires careful consideration and should include hands on participation in the rollout such as learning and application session. Overall communication is important to accompany the entire innovation process and help demystify potential areas of uncertainty.
In summary, understanding how to change behavior and cater to the needs of the individuals who will be directly and indirectly affected by the innovation efforts is an often underestimated part of many innovation programs. However, especially this aspect can determine the adoption and hence the success of the entire program.”
CMO, Schneider Electric
“Traditional ways of thinking and working can often be big barriers. The speed of change in the world is demanding companies shift their mindset and move faster when it comes to innovation.
Leveraging digitization allows Schneider Electric to be more agile and work faster. It enables us to redefine how we work on a project, throughout the lifecycle of an installation and engage various communities. Co-innovation is very central to Schneider’s Innovation DNA. We believe the power of a strong partner ecosystem unleashes infinite possibilities. With EcoStruxure, our IoT-enabled architecture and platform, we made it an open ecosystem so developers can meet and exchange ideas and innovation.
We don’t innovate just to create more technology or products, we want to anticipate and solve customer problems. Domain expertise plays a critical role here. Schneider holds leadership positions in our core businesses: low voltage, medium voltage, industrial automation and secure power. Additionally, we have a balanced geographic footprint with 28% of our 2017 revenue from Asia Pacific, 27% Western Europe, 27% North America and 18% rest of world. This domain expertise and balanced presence allows us the relevance, coverage and agility to help our customers leverage the power of energy management and automation for business impact.”
Head of eXellerator Lab, Standard Chartered Bank
“The biggest barrier I’ve found to successfully driving corporate innovation is ensuring you find and maintain the right balance. Err too far one way and you risk alienating yourself from the organisation, or too far the other and you fail to inspire, excite and drive real and meaningful change.
Balance between those ideas that are a bit too out there, and those that fail to excite and inspire. Balance between testing out experimental technology or business models that may shape our industry in 5-10 years and having a real impact on the bottom line today. Balance between strong leadership and powerful network of empowered intrapreneurs with the tools and the space to drive change in their business areas. Balance between taking the time to bring key business stakeholders with you to spread innovation capability and executing at pace. Last but not least, balance between the risk averse culture in banking that has built large amounts of trust with customers over decades and embracing risk and failure as key ingredients in the modern business world.
Find that balance and you can create a sustainable and impactful innovation program.”
Senior Director, Customer Education at Dun & Bradstreet
“Most organizations have a vision, though primarily demonstrated by a statement rather than a culture employees live by; an instruction from the management, instead of an achievable roadmap passionately owned and embraced by everyone.
To build a culture of innovation, a company must get the buy-ins across levels so every team member is on board. Innovation is more than a manifesto; it is a lifestyle, a mindset that is deep-rooted. Without a shared vision, innovation is translated to involuntary changes- People would rather stay in their cocoons without breaking through, while some get lost in transition or eventually in power struggle.
As a change agent, I am constantly reflecting if I am inspiring the stakeholders around me, if I have the tenacity to withstand resistance and not be overcome by forces against the corporate values. In reality, there are countless barriers to corporate innovation. Determination is what breaks them all, the determination to win as a leader, and as a team.”
Innovation and FinTech Partnerships, Capco
“The largest challenge I have met is fitting the new world into the old world. It all comes down to the ‘innovator’s dilemma’. The current way of operating the business is the largest challenge for most corporates. However, the challenge does not only come from the inside but in many cases it comes from the outside. That outside challenge in most cases is the “hostile” regulatory environment in which corporates operate in.
For instance, from the financial services perspective when corporates engage into Innovative activities such as: proposing new Innovative products, or partnerships with Fintechs or other emerging tech/digital platform; corporates face challenges in three key areas.
Business model Innovation - Standard business practices have not clear understanding on how to monetize Innovation models and what is customer willingness to pay. Therefore, Innovators struggle into steering the conventional business towards customer centricity. Ideas are still built around the problems which in most cases are not the customers’ problem.
Procurement - Innovation in most cases takes partnerships and collaborations. Onboarding a new partner can be still a long and tedious process.
Risk - New Business models, and partnerships, expose corporates to a new set of risks that they are unfamiliar with. Risk teams have to familiarise with new processes which eventually impact the delivery of projects. Hence, corporations operating in highly regulated countries face the biggest challenge in that regard.
The way to overcome those challenges may vary case by case but building the right capabilities is a fundamental aspect towards the change.”
Head of Innovation & Strategy, Institutional Banking Group, DBS Bank
“To me, the biggest barrier to corporate innovation is forgetting to put customers as our highest priority. Sometimes we may get fixated on other things such as technology, process and regulations, and forgetting to put customer experience at the forefront of innovation. In the fintech world, we have seen some startups jumping into the technical solutions before they truly understand the customers’ jobs-to-be-done, which results in significant rework or unsuccessful deployment at the end. To avoid such pitfall, the diligence of immersing ourselves into the customer journey at the onset is critical. And the process doesn’t stop there – we have to constantly validate our work through customer immersion and diligent tracking, and it is not uncommon to go through a few iterations before we finally get it right.
Some people may be obsessed with the latest gadgets, apps or system architecture when they drive innovation. For us, technology is an enabler and that customer experience always comes first. This is something we have to remind ourselves every day.”
Managing Director, Eaton Hotels Hong Kong
"Quite often Corporations claim Innovation to be a key part of the organisation, but more often than not fail to provide the right environment for this.
I believe that some of the below key concepts and basic principles will allow for true innovation to happen.
• Innovation needs to be part of the HR agenda, clearly defined as part of the internal culture, integrated in the core values and anchored by KPIs. If it’s not part of the expected and defined behaviour, it will not be a priority for anyone.
• Innovation needs to be defined. It means many different things to many different people and hence requires clearly formulated Parameters and Focus areas to streamline and make efforts more efficient.
• If all ideas remain without implementation due to lack of commitment or budget, efforts to be innovative will seize quickly. Companies need to allocate specific funds to this and allow time to make it happen.
• Allow failure. Everyone must accept that things might not work out the first time. It is essential to have a mind-set to try and try again.
• Trust and open Communication. Ideas should be discussed and evaluated in a team and discussed openly. The best ideas should win and the team should trust each other that no personal agendas disrupt this process or that rejected ideas equal personal failure.
Innovation is not always about ground breaking change, but sometimes simple, fun ideas that make the life of employees and customers easier can be very powerful and motivating tools.”
Entrepreneur, Investor and Corporate Innovator
“Based on my experience across leading startups, investing and being a corporate entrepreneur, the biggest barrier I’ve seen to innovation in corporates is the tone at the top.
Key leaders must take the time to consider how innovation will be a core driver or enabler of business strategy going forward, communicate its relevance to each part of the business, align incentives and create a sense of urgency.
My job as a leader is to ensure that the teams understand why their team and individual contributions are important, ensure participation and of the team in the process of implementation and create a sense of ownership and pride.
Otherwise, even if the company has an innovation department, it will always be a project at the margins that fails to bring the business material gains."
Incubator and FinTech Enthusiast
“The biggest barrier is the inherited corporate limitations such as outdated KPIs and/or the corporate structure. While any innovation must come with a disruptive nature, the incumbents are reluctant to change the KPI or agree to work under a new corporate structure in line with innovation.
The most effective way to overcome or workaround this is to spin off the business unit(s) that requires a high level of innovation to avoid the conflict or reluctance. One good example: Both QQ and Wechat are IM applications, rather than enhancing QQ from a PC base IM platform to a Mobile App, Tencent spun off Wechat so that it can now become their flagship product without unnecessary influence from the QQ team.”
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To help you avoid stepping into these all too common pitfalls, we’ve reflected on our five years as an organization working on corporate innovation programs across the globe, and have prepared 100 DOs and DON’Ts.