In August 2010, K.K. Chutani, marketing head of foods at Dabur India , attended a threeday brain-storming session along with 30 colleagues from separate functions like accounts, packaging, vendors, and channel activation. The objective was to take Dabur to the next level of growth with longterm innovative thinking. He was stunned to find the sessions throwing up no less than 100 ideas, of which 10 were shortlisted. Five of those shortlisted have already been put to work, with one of them leading to the launch of Real Activ Fiber+, a juice product that is rich in fibre as well.
Thinking rooms equipped with an artifi cial waterfall, mood lighting, games and music, where different teams brainstorm once a month.
Internal networking platform (Vox) to answer queries and facilitate interactions among employees
i-mentor programme to train mentors who further guide teams; SMART initiative; Parivartan programme for blue-collar employees
Cross-functional initiatives, internal social networking platforms, awards like Eureka, Applause and Trailblazer and Spot to recognise talent
Enthused by the outcome of the session, Dabur has decided to make the exercise a regular feature. "We will have these sessions twice a year from now on," says A. Sudhakar, Executive Director of Human Resources at Dabur.
Dabur is not alone. Since ideas drive innovation, many organisations today are looking at ways to tap the knowledge base of every employee. With markets becoming more and more competitive, companies are putting in place processes and initiatives that encourage employees to constantly generate new ideas. These could range from cross-functional initiatives to internal social networking platforms to awards and initiatives that recognise talent.
Samsung, for instance, has devised a scheme for employees at its plants in Noida and Chennai that results in real-time innovations. Main line operators of various divisions such as mobile handsets, TV sets, and air conditioners are encouraged to offer suggestions for improving the manufacturing process for which they are suitably rewarded. "We get about 6,000 to 7,000 ideas from our workers in Noida," says Devinder Sharma, Samsung's Plant HR head. Rajni, who works in the main line operations at Samsung's headset plant in Noida, won an award this May for suggesting the use of a supporting device for handsets during the SIM insertion process, which earlier needed a second worker. The supporting device allows her to work on two handsets at a time, and shortens the assembling time from 7.5 to six seconds. It takes six seconds at Rajni's stage. The timings may be different for other stages. In a number-intensive manufacturing process, that is critical.
Samsung's competitor LG Electronics India has 'thinking' rooms called Shunya and Anant at its offices in Noida and Pune. All teams are expected to brainstorm there once a month. "The room has an artificial waterfall, mood lighting and other relaxation tools like games and music which enable employees to think differently. New ideas are captured, and some products from our India Insight stable have stemmed from these sessions," says Umesh Dhal, Vice President, HR and Management Support at LG Electronics India.
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Thinking hard: Abhimanyu Kapoor, Manager, Programme Management at Sapient Nitro (right) with his colleagues
The pressure to generate ideas is much more intense in the creative segments, whose very existence depends on providing innovative insights to clients. To manage the intensity of demand, digital advertising, marketing and technology services firm Sapient Nitro relies on social networking with a difference. It uses Vox for internal social networking, where employees can ideate, share and interact. "Like Facebook, the platform includes special forums and groups which enable engineers and technical professionals to post and resolve queries," says Anand Bhaskar, Vice President, People Success at Sapient India. For instance, Vox has a group on Hybris, a software solution for e-commerce, with over 100 members. "The group was created when we started getting a lot of Hybris projects last year," says Abhimanyu Kapoor, Manager, Programme Management at Sapient Nitro. "Employees working on Hybris projects for different clients can interact in real time. Often, the solutions to problems are posted within hours."
Elsewhere, at Viacom 18, Abhinav Chopra, Vice President, HR and Administration, says ideation is not constrained by hierarchy. "We try to create an environment where innovation multiplies," he says. Sujoy Bardhan, Assistant Manager, Marketing, and Mitali Desai, Senior Manager, Consumer Products at Nickelodeon (a group company of Viacom 18), who were part of one such workshop this year, feel it was immensely valuable. Bardhan recalls how one such interaction led him to a new idea. "An employee from the scheduling team told us how his child and his friends wrote a letter to the apartment society they stayed in after they were prevented from playing.
They got other children to sign the letter. That gave us the idea for the 'Let's Just Play' campaign," says Bardhan. The campaign, an annual feature, encourages children to play through on-ground events. The Let's Just Play campaign will include the idea of children writing petitions to teachers, parents and friends in September this year. "Through such initiatives, we get various inputs. The marketing team tells us how to project a product, the sales people advise us on above-the-line campaigns, the creative team tells us what the TV commercial should be like," says Desai. She handled a stationery project with Nickelodeon's Dora and Sponge Bob characters for Ballarpur Industries this year, and roped in the sales and marketing teams which even created two above-the-line commercials.
These measures that require employees to think out-of-the-box also need the support of a process which can institutionalise the new practices. With fierce competition in the consumer durables segment, Whirlpool has formulated a process to capture such ideas from different teams that will eventually add to the bottomline.
In June, the company conducted a first-of-its-kind i-mentor programme to train people in partnership with external consultants. The programme conducted in Shanghai trained 36 cross-functional employees from Asia, including 13 from India, to facilitate what the organisation calls the 'toll gate' process.
"The toll gate process is able to record all the ideas in a disciplined manner at every stage,'' says Anil Garg, Vice President, HR, Asia, at Whirlpool. In the next step, the i-mentors get to work. "An idea should have commercial viability and it should improve an existing process. The mentors ask questions that get tougher at every level," says Garg. The company also has a 'customer growth centricity' process, in which employees work alongside trade partners in selling some of their products to customers, to bring back consumer insights. "We also have SMART (save money and reap tomorrow), a programme aimed at creating a frugal mindset. Innovation is driven by costs, and the emphasis is on generating ideas that control costs," adds Garg. Bluecollar employees are recognised through Parivar-tan, an ideation platform where they are encouraged to improve product quality and reduce costs.
To incentivise people to think differently, Viacom 18 has put in place the Red Ant Awards, starting this July. Employees will be able to appreciate and reward one another through 'Red Ant Cards'. The cards can be redeemed for gifts and vouchers. The idea is to encourage exchange and facilitation of ideas through initiatives like movie screenings and cross-functional brainstorming sessions.
Dabur, too, believes that it is important to evangelise ideation. It has awards and initiatives like Spot, Eureka and Trailblazer to spur and recognise creative thinking. "The awards are publicised to enable employees to think differently," says Sudhakar. As a result, the outcomes become more structured and refined.
Such initiatives are expected to become the norm. Venkat Iyer, a partner at Aventus Partners, sums up: "Companies whose existence depends on innovation tend to be more nimble with such processes as opposed to those which are structured, bureaucratic and hierarchical. Even within the innovation domain, we see such policies increasingly gaining momentum."