By guest author Tony Scott
Creating a Culture of Innovation
Tony: Going back to your comment earlier about the cultural differences between an R&D-driven organization and an IT organization, the kinds of people that are needed in those kinds of organizations do have to think pretty differently. So, there’s a big cultural difference for the R&D versus the internal IT approach.
But let me ask you this – do you see cultural differences that are driven by geography or nationality in your various operations in India, Ukraine, Argentina, China, and the United States? When you hire in the BRICs or near-BRICs, do you find people there who have the backgrounds and experiences that encourages the kind of innovative thinking we have been become accustomed to in Silicon Valley?
Peter: That’s a great question. In general I would say no, and that’s probably the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for us as a company. To the extent that we can re-create some of that Silicon Valley-style innovation throughout our global community, then we’ve created something really special. That’s just what we have attempted to do for the past eight years.
What’s exciting is, there’s no question that this is not a genetic thing. We know perfectly well that you can bring people from all over the world, you put them here in Silicon Valley, and pretty quickly they get it. So, it stands to reason that it should be possible to take these approaches and traits and cultures and norms that we find common in Silicon Valley, and transplant them internationally to create those norms globally. Of course it’s not something you can make happen just by snapping your fingers.
Tony: No, you can’t just tell somebody “Be innovative” and expect it to happen.
Peter: Right. But you can help to foster innovation. I think we are enjoying some really good success doing this.
Tony: What have you done to help encourage it?
Peter: Well, some of this is a little bit of our secret, so I won’t share all of the details, but I think a lot of it is about the DNA and the culture of our company, which is one of almost extreme openness. Some would say open to a fault [laughter]. We have really embraced this idea company wide wherein there’s a tremendous emphasis on sharing everything, unless there’s a compelling reason not to share it. Obviously if it is proprietary to a client, then that IP has to be locked down, but everything else is shared by default. For instance my goals are visible to the whole company, everyone. My management team’s goal is visible to the entire company. It is a complete transparency of goals. We’ve created a vibrant and active social network within the company, kind of our corporate LinkedIn, that provides a platform for active dialogue, discussion, and sharing.
Tony: An enterprise social network?
Peter: Enterprise social networks, and enterprise wikis, and knowledge bases. A lot of engineering has gone into creating an organizational structure and then a platform to foster and facilitate that culture of openness throughout the organization. Some of it is in the recruiting steps and tests that we use in our recruiting process; some of it is in the formats and management systems that we use in evaluating and assessing people at different stages of their career. Innovation is one of four core values that we have as a company and that we try to cultivate in people, and the other three all directly drive innovation. I think they’re the bedrock on which innovation is based.
Tony: What are those other three core values?
Peter: Openness, teamwork, and integrity.
I think that at the heart it is about the culture that we’ve created, and everything that supports it reinforces it. From recruiting to training, to performance systems to communication, collaboration, and management systems, all are a big part of it.
Tony: Any organization that wants to create a strong, sustainable culture has to look at it from both sides of the pyramid. The people you hire at the bottom maintain and sustain a culture as they grow up, but the creation and reinforcement of a culture has to happen in the leadership team from the very top on down. The leadership team has to live and breathe that culture and be visible examples of the behaviors that create and reinforce the cultural norms.
One of the things I certainly have seen as an issue with many global organizations is that when you try to build a leadership team or bring in a new member into the leadership team, you get instances where the “corporate white blood cells” reject the new entrant. If you’re trying to change a culture, to move it to a new direction and you bring in a person or a group of people to be that change agent, your efforts can be rejected badly. And in a global organization, unless you have cross-pollination from, for example, the culture and the people here in Silicon Valley with the people in India, with the people in Ukraine, and so on, you can very easily end up having a lot of different cultures at work instead of the one you want. The company will then operate as a ”multi-local” rather than a multi-national or global company.