Forbes India – Innovation, leadership: top executives as directors of reframing


It is the duty of the CEO and its senior leader to assume the role of director of reframing, to help expand or reorient the collective purpose of the company and to open up new spaces and avenues for everyone to search for new ideas inside the new larger “mental box”.
Image: Shutterstock

NOTot every CEO can be the next Steve Jobs, constantly conjuring up groundbreaking new ideas and breakthrough products. But what all CEOs and senior leaders can be are champions of innovation within their own organization. They are the ones who can help give their employees the freedom and space to be creative, while setting the boundaries within which that innovation can take place.

Former CEO of Finnish lifestyle brand Fiskars, Kari Kauniskangas, described his approach to the challenge of embedding innovation in his organization: “It’s important to me to make sure that our employees have the desire , the will and the freedom to find better ways. business. In search of new ideas, you have to give them permission to go crazy! But we also need to create boxes that define their purpose and inspire people to innovate in the areas that need it most. »

Transform through innovation

The impact of such leadership can be extremely powerful, helping a company open up new product lines, enter new markets, or even redefine its overall purpose or mission. Take the case of Ecocem, a small cement company seeking to compete in a traditional industry dominated by a handful of large companies. Founder and Managing Director Donal O’Riain realized that if Ecocem wanted to stand out from the competition, it had to harness the power of innovation to help address an unmet customer need. For O’Riain, this need was a way to reduce the high environmental impact of cement. Cement production is very energy-intensive and accounts for around 8% of total annual greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Yet there had been little or no effort within the industry to find a more sustainable solution.

Despite the concerns of Ecocem’s board of directors, O’Riain has devoted significant financial resources to researching and developing potential solutions. He gave the company a clear direction by redefining its motto as “Innovation for Sustainability”. It also created a special technology sub-committee, which saw its board members liaise with managers working on key innovation projects. Not only did this give initially skeptical board members insight into the potential benefits of innovations, but it also helped to further inspire Ecocem’s innovators by showing them that they had the support of some of the most important to the organization.

Thus, the Ecocem team was able to take advantage of an underutilized technological innovation – ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBS) – to develop a cement substitute that is just as resistant as traditional cementitious products but with a footprint much lower carbon.

Although it took a significant investment of time, negotiation, research and resources to persuade regulators and customers of the true potential of switching to GGBS, the company was able to reshape its entire model business around this innovation. From being just another cement company, Ecocem is now firmly positioned as an environmentally conscious organization whose innovative product line helps customers achieve their key sustainability goals.

Reframing: a key innovation process

Ecocem is a classic example of a CEO helping to reframe a company’s purpose. Reframing is a key mechanism for an organization to adjust (and in some cases drastically alter) its current focus in order to respond to changing external and internal realities and help it better prepare for the future. . For Ecocem, this meant changing its mission and adopting an innovative new product to meet the demands of a more sustainable future.

In my book, Built to Innovate, I identify reframing, along with creation and integration, as one of the three key processes needed to embed what I call an innovation engine into the DNA of any organization. .

As I’ve explained in previous articles in this series, creation is about giving employees the tools and motivation to generate ideas, while integration is about connecting those ideas, innovators, and resources within an organization and linking them to the execution engine. Reframing is the practice of challenging assumptions that may hinder such innovation by encouraging team members to change their mindset and reinvent their ways of working (as illustrated in the graphic below ).

In other words, it is the duty of the CEO and his leader to assume the role of director of reframing, to help expand or reorient the collective purpose of the company and to open up new spaces and new avenues for everyone to search for new ideas in the new bigger ‘mental box’.

From raw material supplier to innovative partner

Kordsa, a Turkish tire fabric manufacturer, is another good example of a company that has managed to reframe its mission under leadership leadership. Under the leadership of then-CEO Cenk Alper, Kordsa transformed its focus from a simple commodity provider into an “enhancer”. By working in partnership with customers and non-customers, Kordsa began to develop innovative reinforcement solutions beyond the tire industry, opening up whole new markets in the construction, electronics and of aerospace.

As in the case of Ecocem, this transformation was led by the CEO who took the initiative to demonstrate a commitment to innovation, through training and investment, throughout the organization. Alper, who is now the CEO of Sabancı Holding, of which Kordsa is a group company, has since redefined Kordsa’s mission: to become a company that seeks to “strengthen life” by combining high value-added strengthening technologies with the innovation in order to create sustainable value for all its stakeholders and society.

Cropping is everyone’s responsibility

Even though an organization’s leaders have a key role to play in the reframing process by creating permission and space to innovate, it would be wrong to think that this is their sole responsibility. As is the case with implementing the creative and onboarding processes that fuel the engine of innovation, reframing can only be effective if everyone, from front-line workers, management middle to senior management, is fully activated and contributing.

Frontline workers’ daily interaction with customers (and non-customers) not only makes them essential as a source of new creative ideas; it also means that they are best placed to provide concrete feedback on the validity of current assumptions and beliefs about an organization’s ways of doing things. Indeed, the popular Japanese concept of gemba is based on the idea that spending time at the “real place” where your company’s value is created, whether it’s a meeting with a client or factory, is an excellent source of new ideas and new perspectives.

Of course, frontline workers need to feel confident enough to challenge their bosses and the team and bring any new idea and innovation to light. This is where middle managers come into the reframing process. They are the ones responsible for creating a fair process and building trust and psychological safety into the operation of the innovation engine so that frontline workers feel empowered to innovate. They help the frontline team feel confident in creating the ideas and then ensure that the good ideas have the opportunity to be applied and implemented.

What the examples of Ecocem and Kordsa show is that the actions of senior leaders can be the catalyst for this innovative process to take off. By challenging current assumptions and the status quo, promoting transparency, and demonstrating a willingness to experiment in their actions and actions, a leader can help transform an organization, even in a tradition-conscious industry, into a innovation hub.

This article is part of a series using specific case studies from the Built to Innovate book to highlight the three processes – creation, integration and reframing – that will enable a company to develop an engine of innovation.

Ben M. Bensaou, is Professor of Technology Management and Professor of Asian Business and Comparative Management at INSEAD. He served as Dean of Executive Education from 2018 to 2020.

Click here to see Forbes India’s full coverage of the Covid-19 situation and its impact on life, business and economy

Discover our end of season subscription discounts with an absolutely free Moneycontrol pro subscription. Use code EOSO2021. Click here for more details.

[This article is republished courtesy of INSEAD Knowledge Copyright INSEAD 2010]


About Author

Comments are closed.