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Driving Culture Change in Large Companies

Alex Goryachev, Managing Director, Cisco

Question: How do we change the culture at a large company both successfully and unsuccessfully?

Step 0 is facing the reality that a Fortune 100 company has trouble changing.

The primary question, then: How do we change?

The business case for innovation has changed. The average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 has decreased 67 years in the 20s to 20 years today.

How do we change the culture and set the stage for successful innovation?

  1. Communicate urgency: showcase the world is changing. The goal is to disrupt or be disrupted. The world is hyper connected. The speed of innovation is an imperative. Lower cost of innovation. Access to funding. Middle management and leadership need to know these forces.
  2. Disruption wins: my parents told me, “don’t meet strangers on the internet and don’t jump in strangers cars”—I met my wife on match.com and always take Uber—things have changed. Disruption is real.
  3. Proven trend: if companies are not innovation they are dying: Borders, Blockbuster, Xerox, others. But they are in denial: “We haven’t seen a direct effect for Airbnb in any of our hotels” --COO of Hospitality group 2014.
  4. Establish a Clear business case for innovation: Exceed customer needs, drive profitable growth, squelch the competition, attract and retain talent, and improve world conditions. We innovation because there are a world of challenges.
  5. Combat Fake Innovation: eradicate “innovation theater” and focus only on what has potential to drive revenue or value
  6. Embrace the ecosystem: We co-develop, Invest, partner, Build, and Buy—these methods are how we grow value.
  7. Ditch company politics and bring everyone together: Startups are a team sport. Company life will always be a political process, but it is essential for Innovators to be invisible. Facilitate and be invisible. Celebrate innovators in the teams and make it about all of the professionals across the company
  8. Redefining innovation: Empower every employee to innovate and make a meaningful difference. We built a program that lets us empower and engage with each employee. The goals are to transform and accelerate.
  9. Inclusion and diversity is important. In my team my people speak 35 languages. Innovators are more important than innovations. Partner with HR—our sponsor is the Chief People Officer.
  10. Connect employee to strategy. This tether is vitally important. Ask them to focus on business outcomes. It helps the business units to have an innovation ambition for each team.
  11. Bring it all together: We pair people with coaches and mentors.
  12. Tackle big challenges ahead: We are rethinking compensation for ideas that get market traction.
  13. Have fun. It’s important that we question everything and everyone. 

About the Author: Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an insight, innovation, and growth firm, and the author of Going Electric. Learn more at www.southerngrowthstudio.com

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