Meet the Entrepreneur: the importance of corporate innovation

Tuesday, 16 October 2012  Features

The Centre for Innovation & Entre​preneurship's latest 'meet th​e entrepreneur' event highlighted the importance of corporate innovation. A moderated panel, led by Crikey Publisher Marina Go, AGSM MBA (Exec) '03, discussed how organisations can be more innovative and how to embed innovative practices into their culture. Panellists included Dr Loretta O'Donnell Associate Dean, Education, Australian School of Business; Saul Brown Founder and Managing Director, 2b Consulting; Audra Eng Vice President Product Development, Atlassian Software Systems and Nick Aronson General Manager, Transaction Banking, Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Nick Aronson defined innovation as "realised change for the better." He said, "The focus must be on the realisation. Without it, innovation is just a good idea."

Nick went on to say, "Innovation is not in itself a goal. It is a means to an end. Businesses need to articulate their goals and vision and work out how they are going to get there". He named staff buy-in and engagement as the most essential element of implementing an innovation program into an organisation. He advised companies to figure out ways of measuring staff engagement and encouraging employee contributions. "Ask your staff, what is it that you currently do that you shouldn't be doing?"

Saul Brown agreed that staff buy-in is essential and said that innovation is best implemented into an organisation "from the grass roots". When innovation develops "from the ground up, it is much more likely to work its way into the DNA of the company."

Saul stressed that there should not be pressure on new innovation programs to work immediately.

"Companies learn from successes and failures when developing new products and services- and trialling innovation programs should be the same," he said. Testament to the grass-roots method of setting up a culture of innovation are the successes of small start up operations that remain agile while "breaking the rules and redefining industries."

Audra Eng's company Atlassian is a business founded on the principals of innovation. She shared some of Atlassian's innovation programs with the audience including Ship It day, a day each quarter, where employees are given the chance to work on anything that relates to Atlassian's products and complete it within 24 hours.

Audra said transparency is essential for staff to be fully engaged with innovation programs. Staff at Atlassian regularly see reports on how the company is tracking including statistics, sales figures and forecasts, and business goals are updated and shared monthly.

Dr Loretta O'Donnell highlighted the role systems play in developing long lasting and effective innovation programs. "Organisations need to think more about the pipeline of human capital, not just the pipeline of ideas," she said.

Loretta said managers need to think about how the human capital systems inside the company fit together and work to achieve the business strategy.

"Companies need to have systems in place that celebrate staff successes and reward the right behaviour. Staff training is also important to foster innovation- companies that invest 3% of gross income on staff training outperform their competitors."

Meet the Entrepreneur is a bi-annual event of The Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, co-sponsored and hosted by Ernst & Young.