When the pandemic came, the people who could, started working from home. As my colleague Justin Bradshaw points out in one of his blog posts, some companies which had a five-year plan to implement a digital strategy did it in eight weeks.

That’s innovation, of a sort, I guess.

The shock to the system accelerated lots of corporate strategies, but now what? Companies more than ever are being urged to re-invent. They’re being encouraged and cajoled. And they really want to re-invent and not just open.

You probably want to, and you know it’s urgent, and you’ll get right to it if you can just clear your email and calendar for about 30 minutes.

Let’s pretend you have those 30 minutes or an hour. Where would you even start?

Some years ago, I was at a seminar and I met a man who found out I was worked in the innovation field.

He was in a specialized industry body in the financial sector. He said he was going back to the office to implement his innovation plan.

I was all ears.

He said he was going to employ the most innovative people he could find.

Re-invention is about re-thinking how to do things. It’s not about the customers. It’s not about the technology. It’s about how leadership sets a culture.

We talk about innovation as a culture, but it really isn’t. It can’t be. If the whole business was innovating all the time it would neglect to monetize its innovations. Businesses are good at their core business. That’s what makes them successful.

Innovations are disruptive. They require change. They require buy-in. Re-invention doesn’t sound very relaxing, does it? It sounds painful and chaotic and uncertain.

The past head of innovation for HP, Phil McKinney, says the role of innovation management is to muscle past what he calls the corporate antibodies that reject new ideas for the intruders they are.

Everybody can have a good idea. Most people can rustle up three in the shower before breakfast. But then what? The man I met at the seminar doesn’t have the ability to manage an innovation portfolio. If somebody came to him with a new idea, he wouldn’t know what to do with it. Those creative people he wants to employ? They will have the creativity beaten out of them or they will leave the organization. He’s outsourcing a structural problem (an ineffective culture) to be solved by the people who are in a sense the victims of that problem.

I’d like to chat about some practical tips to get the re-invention agenda implemented. We have to start with leadership.

Our research shows leaders need to be transparent with their people about changing work opportunities. That means jobs are changing. We need to tear up the old “job description” and start focusing on roles instead.

The next thing to focus on is AI. Digital was the first strategy to be accelerated. The next one will be a combination of AI and big data.

If you use the tools to predict the skills you will need, you can connect workers with job opportunities internally or across your industry and ecosystem.

Now that you have the beginnings of a roadmap, you can help your people with career planning. This gives people confidence in the organisation. You will need to support people as they experience your changing culture.

Finally, all those people will need training, up-skilling and cross-skilling. Does your culture allow people the time and space to constantly upgrade their skills? Or are you so focused on performance that your overall skill level is depreciating? Do you have learning management systems that can deliver the right learning opportunities at scale?

Re-inventing our businesses needs to start with re-inventing our culture. And that starts with re-inventing the way we think about jobs and roles and why people work in the first place.

Rory Moore

Associate Director – Innovation, Accenture Africa

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