Thinking out of the box

Thinking out of the box

Renuka Vembu explores how an innovative culture is imperative for organisational growth and development.

2007081525-1325972It is said that change is the only constant in life, and correctly so. Be it in our personal lives or at our work place, we all need to think out of the box to prevent our lives from becoming monotonous. Changing oneself to the dynamic environment not only ensures survival of the fittest, but also means living life to the fullest. In a professional setting, breaking the norm will mean a variation in the organisational structure, often involving a revamp of the entire work place, preparing the workforce for the foreseen but unpredictable future, helping them change their attitudes and mindsets, inheriting required skills and capabilities and updating technology. Similarly, any process is a team work in its entirety; no single individual or a group of people can achieve the mission without assistance from others—colleagues, sub-ordinates, senior team members or the management.

The word ‘innovation’ not just symbolises great invention programmes with long-term paybacks and enormous monetary benefits to the entire organisation. Contrary to the customary thinking, it also denotes the minute day-to-day activities that can be done differently. Every altered way of functioning calls for creative thinking on the part of its doer, and every creative process can be a road map for an ideal innovation strategy. The perks of an inbuilt innovation culture are many, but to embark on a journey, to counter impediments and fight roadblocks, and to take the initiative through to its final destination is indeed an uphill task.

Each industry calls for different strategies to foster the innovation process. Ranbaxy Drug Discovery Research Unit has a separate Discovery Leadership Team (DLT), comprising senior scientists from various disciplines, that reviews proposals and suggestions submitted, and decides their scientific merit. After a research proposal has been selected by the DLT, an exploratory team of chemists and biologists is tasked to explore the viability of the programme.

Benefit to employees, organisation and environment

Innovation helps in developing improved products and services, leading to better customer relations, thereby resulting in larger clientele. It thus helps an organisation to remain ahead of its opponents in the competitive race. This tried and tested triumphant formula of successful employee retention is palpable. In fact, one of the major roadblocks that every company faces is persuading employees who resist change. Even if required resources are obtained, changing people’s mindset and making them embrace a new way of functioning is a huge charge to undertake. Companies need to be innovative not only to serve their customers better and reap augmented profits, but it is also a way of doing justice to employees, their skills and talent. Employers should convince employees that the change will enable and empower them, in literal terms, to think out-of-the-box. The most important aspect here is to build and encourage a culture where employees willingly and freely share ideas and suggestions, immaterial of whether they rank high on the feasibility scale or not. Getting them to put on their thinking caps and providing them with an opportunity to be a part of the project plan is itself a worthy intention.

Advanced Enzymes Technologies (AETL), Thane, follows these guidelines that help keep its workforce creative and inventive:

  • Management team practise and encourage innovation on a continuous basis

  • Help building relations between the manager and team

  • Key role of leadership

  • Solution providing

  • Help employees become focussed and persistent

  • Execute first thing first

  • Positive and enthusiastic approach

  • Good communication, negotiation and nurture relationships

With reference to the challenges on the road to innovation, Florina D’sa, Head Human Resources of AETL says, “Companies generally face issues like cash flow, competitive manpower, talent crunch, infrastructures, government regulations, human relations, training facilities, developing nations etc. Also they should be aware of short term strategists, it is at times when the managers are short term thinkers that the road becomes difficult. Further to this there are roadblocks like demographic trends, climatic changes etc.” She adds that her employees came up with a concept of converting waste products into saleable products. This not only gave an additional boost to the organisation’s revenue but also acted as an environmental friendly measure.

Determining factors

Factors like employee expertise with the high-tech savvy world, existing time and resources in hand, future expansion or diversification plans, aims and vision of the company, understanding the job requirement, studying the market environment, willingness to overhaul the structure of the existing business model, a thorough knowledge of internal and external customers, customer expectation from the company and the organisation’s market value, brand name and goodwill play a very crucial role in taking the idea from the initiative to the implementation stage.

Dr Pradip Bhatnagar, Senior Vice-President, NDDR, Ranbaxy says, “In a research activity, practicality means predicting the unmet needs and the commercial landscape for a research program 10-12 years in the future. This is done by a research steering committee, which comprises senior management teams from various departments. Marketing and medical research departments also play a key role in this process.”

AETL lists down the following as the factors that nurture the culture of innovation:

  • Framing and supporting risks in any innovations

  • Providing clear targets and outcomes to measure, if innovation is successful

  • Best HR practices that benchmark with the industry

  • Regular knowledge sharing sessions

  • Identifying issues faced by the innovators and finding solutions

  • Disciplined and consistent approach in trying out the new ideas

2007081526-5054212“Raising costs and quality upsets are indicators of scope for betterment. Best industry practices also act as reference points for the need to innovate”

– Ashok Shinkar Director-Corporate Finance

Wanbury

Innovation is not a radical change that can be brought about within a fortnight to make a marked difference. A creative idea is just a baby step in the long exhausting process of implementation of a scheme that will help the company reach the top of the ladder. It has to pass through channels of accurately identifying the area where there is scope of innovation, discussion and approval of the idea, analysing the pros and cons, determining feasibility, charting out a business plan, adhering to the implementation guidelines, handling contingencies and hindrances, and finally, seeing the idea take form. The intention of being innovative has to be collaborated by pooling in all resources, manpower, technology, processes, etc. In this shrinking global world, R&D in technological advancement has changed the way of functioning. Technology is becoming obsolete by the hour and every individual has to constantly adjust and upgrade themselves to be in pace with changing times; working inside a cocoon and in one’s own comfort zone is passé. The task force should be competent enough to handle the changes effectively and efficiently. The business plan should be well planned and defined and meticulously handled to leverage maximum benefits.

Anu’s Laboratories implements Kaizen across its organisation that helps them to create their own trend, rather than following other players in the industry. It also practices the 5S workplace management culture which helps its taskforce be creative and inventive. In addition, it also has set up process development teams, customer focus teams and product teams that help foster its culture of innovation. Hari Babu, Chairman and Managing Director of the company says, “The key factors that help assess the practicality of an idea are—whether productivity would improve, whether quality would improve, and that safety and environment considerations would be positively influenced. The idea is selected after evaluating ROCE/ROI. We have developed a process to convert effluent into usable products and thus achieved ‘zero discharge’.”

Ashok Shinkar, Director, Corporate Finance of Wanbury, says, “Raising costs and quality upsets are indicators of scope for betterment. Best industry practices also act as reference points for the need to innovate.” He feels that productivity improvement, quality compliance (zero error), cost reduction and environmental needs of pollution abatement are major areas which need attention and should stress on innovation. He adds that service to customers, vendors, social responsi-veness and employee improvement programmes help in being innovative not only in products, but also in services.

Areas of innovation

In virtually every situation across all organisations, there will always be scope for innovation, because nothing is ever a picture perfect situation. It is just that the outputs need to be substantially large enough than the inputs for it to be seen as a viable option to exercise. Innovation means creating or adding value to the existing product or service. An apt example of a service being improvised is given by Bilcare Research, based in Pune. The company prioritises ideas and then filters it through the process, instead of just shooting it down at the initial stages itself. This also acts as a self-corrective mechanism. Gautam Chakravarti, Chief Operations Officer, Pharma Packaging and Research, Bilcare, says, “Until recently pharma packaging was seen as a commodity business and understanding the fact that every formulation may require a unique packaging, conforming to its formulation requirement to withstand temperature, moisture, humidity and light, was not there. With innovative solutions, we have brought pharma component to packaging and introduced value added barrier packaging solutions to the pharma-ceutical sector.” They too faced their share of challenges, like counterfeit medicines, compliance, convenience, communication and cost-effectiveness, but overcame these obstacles with persistent efforts. This was largely possible due to extensive employee training and a will to challenge their own benchmark, and in the due process, giving birth to new products and process ideas.

Bhatnagar says that unmet medical needs, scientific doability and commercial attractiveness are some of the key factors that determine the selection of an idea. He adds, “In drug discovery/development arena, development of a novel delivery system is an open field, which has a massive scope of innovation. Just imagine being able to deliver right drug (specific and potent) to right patient (personalised medicine) to correct organ (reduced toxicity) at the desired time (chronobiology and circadian rhythm).”

Conclusion

In the broader framework, innovation thus assists in improving efficiency, augmenting productivity and quality, and enables optimum utilisation of resources. The company benefits as it can reap the fruits of a collective effort, making work and work place an exciting and challenging for the work force. D’sa adds that metrics, learning from ideas which did not work, well maintained documentation and tracking market trends will highlight areas in which there is scope for improvement. An organisation can embrace all these determinants, but they call for massive investments in terms of time, efforts and resources—both human and monetary. The workforce has to be receptive towards change and not resistant. Chakravarti puts it simply, “A good novel idea cannot be pursued unless we are able to imagine it in a creative way and communicate it to consumers. The battle is in the customers’ mind, we need to win it.” In short, change is an exciting feeling, but at times can become quite unnerving. But a business can grow only when the wheels of innovation keep running.

renuka.vembu@expressindia.com