Catalysing Internal Innovation
Most innovation programs start with a statement along the lines of: ‘Innovation is everyone’s job.’ They often begin with leaders soliciting ideas and initiatives from their enthusiastic staff. An exciting selection process follows, and initiatives are launched. However, in many cases, these initiatives fail to blossom as interest wanes either through lack of support or because other projects take precedence.
Yet, it is a fact that no organisation can transform itself without involving the vast majority of its employees in one way or another. The problem is how – how to sustain momentum, and how to translate that momentum into genuine transformation.
We took the view that we would involve people by fostering an entrepreneurial culture within the Bank through our Intrapreneurs program. For this initiative to be sustainable, we needed to create momentum and, importantly, maintain this by the ‘crowd’ (as opposed to top-down directives). Finally, for the initiative to have a transformational impact, we knew that it needed to be all about skills building: not just entrepreneurial skills, but also design skills – the ability to think of client problems differently, and to solve them through the innovative use of technology. In other words, while ideas can be important, the work we are doing is ultimately on skills, mindset and culture: we are working on the DNA of the organisation, one entrepreneur at a time.
Similar initiatives were happening, more or less concurrently, elsewhere within the Bank. A relatively recently arrived COO started introducing ‘new ways of working’ inspired by his experience in Australia with CBA, which was attempting to become a more customer-centric bank. (While not everything worked out for them, they certainly achieved progress in comparison to their domestic competition.) At the same time, the Retail business unit was investing more (increasingly senior individuals and ever-larger investment budgets) in ‘digitising the Bank’. While the CIB unit created a ‘Digital Channel and Data Analytics’ group that aimed to build on the latest technologies and in some ways also build on what we had called ‘next generation channels’ in TB.
This was great. If you genuinely believe that ‘innovation is everyone’s job’, as we did, then centralising such efforts, or even attempting to coordinate them, is completely nonsensical. These innovation agendas in other areas of the Bank have not propelled SC Ventures; they were way too nascent at the time. Rather, the momentum behind our evolution was driven by a burgeoning of initiatives moved by largely like-minded people, all contributing in their way. Sometimes this was incremental contributions – which is equally important, as we argue later – and sometimes more transformationally. The tools they applied might differ slightly, but all held the common threads of agility and customer-centric design. If we all did a good job of focusing on our specialities (SC Ventures on business models, Retail on digitising the Bank, CIB on embracing data with modern channels, and the COO team on revamping our processes), surely these streams would converge into creating a better-performing organisation?
The Intrapreneurs program started in the Transaction Bank of Standard Chartered. We designed TB Innovate, a platform designed for people to submit ideas on anything from client propositions to product development, with the crowd in TB (theoretically, everyone) commenting and voting on the ideas. The success of the program was both evident and mixed. It was evident because people did engage with it. They submitted genuinely thoughtful propositions, some of which we implemented. This created little bits of home-grown innovation in the unit. It was also mixed because it was usually the same individuals who engaged – the like-minded ones, who typically sat together in a corner of the Singapore floor. (Presumably, the message never really made it to people elsewhere in the Bank.)
The platform was branded with its logo, consisting of a little cube reminiscent of the logo we used to communicate TB’s priorities. When it was presented at the CIB management team meeting, the interim head of that unit, Mark Dowie, liked it so much that he initially suggested renaming ‘TB Innovate’ as ‘CIB Innovate’, before he corrected himself: ‘This should be SC Innovate.’ The little cube remained on the logo for a while as a souvenir.
SC Innovate is underlaid by two main assumptions:
The crowd might know something management doesn’t. Wouldn’t it be great if those bankers who engaged with clients or experience the latest technologies were the ones telling management what the next innovation should be? In fact, the crowd might know more than management does. Rather than managers making autocratic decisions on how to prioritise investments, could we experiment with an environment where the crowd voted and outlined the next priorities?
We would all gain by empowering those people who were willing just to get on with things, rather than telling them what to do. We were trying to move away from a top-down ‘chain of command’ and to allow small groups of individuals to do what they thought was right, provided they had support from their peers on the platform.
This last point is self-fulfilling: on the negative side, the more managers tell people what to do, the more employees expect to be told what to do and so become ‘internally and process-focused’ rather than taking the initiative.
This is not dissimilar to the concept Bill outlined in our conversations about ‘individuals coming to situations and playing a role’, meaning the risk person or the finance person. In this case, the boss plays the role of the boss, telling people what to do, and the junior takes the role of a junior banker, obediently following directions. In order to perform at our best, let alone transform anything, we need professionals to step out of their role play and embrace the whole enterprise while still keeping their area of speciality. To foster innovation and creation, we certainly need junior bankers and all ranks in the organisation to be ‘intrapreneurial – to do what they know is right for clients. This requires the bosses to step out of their conventional roles: rather than telling others what to do, they should provide a platform where people can do what they think is the right thing – and innovate. This is easier said than done and by far the hardest thing for a leader to do is to unlearn their reflexes and resist the urge to ‘help’ their team by instructing them on what to do.
Yet, the more management focuses on a shared purpose – a ‘north star’ or a clear goal – while allowing employees to identify the steps for themselves, the more initiative they can come to expect and, over time, deliver greater results. A sense of ownership will add motivation and energy which more than makes up for the occasional duplication or efficiency loss.
We designed The Intrapreneurs program to allow people to spend 20 per cent of their time working on their own projects – a concept borrowed from the famous Google example. First, they would submit a project or idea to the SC Innovate platform. The ‘crowd’, rather than management, would then vote on projects and decide which ones were worth pursuing. At this point we would form a small team: typically, the individual(s) who submitted along with subject-matter experts from the Bank (legal, compliance or technology). We would bring a method and tools, basically combining Human-Centred Design (HCD) with a ‘Lean Startup’ approach to encourage the teams to articulate a ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP). We then test it immediately and tweak it based on feedback. We repeat this process again, and again and again. Obviously, we didn’t invent any of these methods; they are in fact so well-known they constitute ‘buzz words’ in the world of business innovation consultants. Yet, what struck us was that they are rarely used at scale in conventional corporations (other than in the remote innovation labs) and taking them mainstream was a big opportunity.
The saying goes that successful startups aren’t those with the best idea or technology, but the ones that iterate the most (literally, the most number of times, meaning try, get feedback, adjust, try again, etc.), so we wanted to start integrating that concept in the Bank’s ‘ways of working’. Once the MVP was sufficiently iterated, a prototype was presented to a ‘Dragon’s Den’ composed of business unit managers. Here funding for implementation might be granted or the initiative might be integrated into an existing product line or working group.
Our first global Intrapreneur challenge was met with mixed success. The final selection process was difficult. Also, we started looking too late for business sponsors – only after the teams had created a prototype. Additionally, the challenge of being able to use 20 per cent of one’s time to work on an Intrapreneur idea is very difficult to manage in the real world. We were fortunate that many of our Intrapreneurs were willing to work in their own time to gain experience and exposure, as they sometimes lacked support from their middle managers.
To address some of these issues, we now engage with business sponsors and craft problem statements together before we open a ‘challenge’. This allows for later selection of ideas by people vested in the project, as well as for a commitment that serious consideration will be given to implementation at scale should the ideas succeed. It also made us more comfortable with early funding for the teams so they could research and build their prototypes before pitching.
CardsPal is a great example of Intrapreneurs gone entrepreneurs – meaning, in this case, Venture Leads. When we first saw ‘Credit Card Buddy’, it was a project within the Bank and for the Bank, led by enthusiastic participants in the program who had pitched their idea of a credit card benefit app for the Bank. However, a few months into it, we realised that while banks were keen to extend credit card benefits to consumers to induce more sign-ups, they aren’t necessarily incentivised to help users optimise or redeem such benefits, as this becomes a cost. Also, and perhaps more importantly, being outside the bank was the only way to make it clear to potential partners – and specifically other banks – that we were genuinely an open, bank- and other platforms that are partner-agnostic. The rest is history (see Chapter 3).