Innovation In Large Organizations

Shruti Kashyap has been with Unilever for over 16 years, doing a variety of technology roles across Sales, Marketing, and Finance. She has led large digital transformation programs globally at Unilever and set up a global production hub in Bangalore. More recently she led the GSK merger, India’s largest FMCG merger, where technology played a pivotal role in landing the merger at the time of a pandemic. She is passionate about creating business value through innovation and experimenting with new technology and experiences.

In a conversation with Charulatha, a correspondent in Siliconindia magazine, Shruti discussed the impact of cross functional collaboration on balancing innovation and stability in large organizations. Major innovation challenges
include fostering collaboration and overcoming resistance.

How does cross-functional collaboration impact the balance between promoting innovation and maintaining stability and consistency in large organization’s operations?

A CIO’s role should be 30 Percent run and BAU, and 70 Percent innovation. The run aspect is purely operational, to keep the business of such a large organisation running itself takes massive day to day effort across multiple functions from manufacturing to planning to supply chain to finance to sales. On innovation, it is critical that IT has a seat at the table in business strategy discussions. Technology is no longer a support function but a growth driver for the organisation and its critical that it gets looked at that way from the top leadership. True digital transformation cannot happen in siloed ways of working, and inherently needs cross functional collaboration to succeed.

In your experience, what are the key factors that foster a culture of innovation within a large organization?

Culture of innovation is driven by a lot of factors – the messaging from the top leadership, the investment made by the organisation in learning and development of its employees, the openness of leadership to create a space for experimentation – this means allocating budgets, and empowering team members and not becoming blockers to it.

In your view, what are the most significant challenges or obstacles large organizations face when trying to foster innovation, and how do you address them?

The first one is mindset shift. Large organisations are some times like elephants, where people have an inertia, and it takes effort to make elephants dance. The way to address this is to ensure that we take people along on the journey to the “why” of the innovation, rather than it being a push from the top.

The second issue is change management. Often, great innovations end up being miserable failures just because the way they were implemented did not take into account the change management it would entail – be it training, ensuring there is adequate time given for scale up and adoption, and then ensuring that we are tracking business benefits from the innovation.

What methods or processes do large organizations employ to identify emerging trends and technologies that could drive innovation?

Most large organisations have strong relationships with big tech – the likes of SAP, Microsoft, Google etc. Equally, they must make an organised effort to touch base with the startup ecosystem, as that’s sometimes where the latest innovation could come from. Equally, keeping an outside in mindset, connecting with peers in the industry and upskilling yourself and team members is a critical aspect here.

How does a large organization handle the scalability of innovative ideas and ensure they are implemented effectively throughout the organization?

It has to be an iterative cycle – start with an experiment, do a proof of concept, do a proof of value, move forward with a small pilot, let it stabilise and then plan for scale. A hurry in trying to get scale often means missing one of the steps in between and leads to failure. With large organisations, the scale is often so large – think thousands of end users or customers or ware houses – and therefore even more critical to plan the implementations in a phased manner rather than one big bang.