Published: November 18, 2020

Author: Scott Teeple

Digital transformation is happening at rapid rates, and it is fair to say that COVID has accelerated the pace of change across enterprises. The technologies available today have grown exponentially over the years, and the knowledge around when and how to use those technologies has increased. Technology isn’t the only thing that has changed substantially. The workforce’s demographics have shifted from Baby Boomers to Gen X to Millenials, and now Gen Z is entering the workforce. By the end of 2020, the global Gen Z population will reach 2.56 billion people, and by 2030, 30% of the workforce will be Gen Z. 

One of the significant differences between Gen Z from all other generations is they are the first generation to grow up with technology at their fingertips. Technology is ingrained in their daily lives. Eighty percent of Gen Z respondents said they hope to work with cutting-edge technologies and believe technology and automation will create a more equitable work environment. The vast majority (91%) cite technology as the most crucial factor when choosing a job. 

With the shift of traditional IT systems being automated or commoditized through cloud services and emerging technologies, there is no denying that the employee base, especially those at the beginning of their careers, have gotten smarter.  It no longer takes several specialized roles or expertise to present technology solutions to a problem.  With cloud computing, you can procure everything by pushing a button. Now you just need Google to use your favorite low-code/no-code solutions to design your custom solution. 

More now than ever, the enterprise needs to be open to creating a culture of innovation. No longer should innovation be owned by one department but equally owed across the entire business. Here are four ways to foster a culture of innovation across the enterprise:

    1. Knowledge is power: I recently spoke with an industry peer and asked how they supported an increasingly knowledgeable workforce and positioned it internally. They responded that they agreed there was a growing, knowledgeable workforce but that most of the workforce lacked the understanding of how it all works together. Their response struck me. I realized that to have a truly innovative culture, we are responsible for educating the enterprise on how to use technology, how to apply it, how everything works together, and the benefits of everything working together. 

    2. Create cross-functional tiger teams: When a good idea is found, set parameters around the concept. Next, assemble a tiger team to vet the idea and, hopefully, bring the concept to life. This group needs members from across the enterprise to sit on them to ensure there is diversity of thought and that departments feel represented and heard. (One caveat, you don’t need to create a tiger team to determine if robotic process automation (RPA) is a good idea or not. RPA has been vetted and proven to be successful time and time again. Now you use the tiger team to vet opportunities to be automated—so as Nike would say, “Just do it!”)

    3. Educate the masses: Due to technology being commoditized, there has been an uptick of cItizen developers. Gartner’s definition of a citizen developer is a user who created new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by IT.  But even citizen developers need structure and guidelines around technology. When you take the time to educate your employees about doing it right, you will get some great results. Here are some things to consider educating the masses on when it comes to technology: the technical aspects, the tool type, how to do the work with the new technology, design guidelines, how to “code” (use of low-code/no-code features), and best practices for acceptable coding standards. 

    4. Empowerment equals trust: When you have a culture of innovation, you show your employees that you trust them. To truly empower your employees, you have to give them access to the tools and then get out of the way and let them do it. Think of it as being a parent. You have to allow your children to make decisions.  We root and cheer from the sidelines, and when we can, provide guidance and advice.  It isn’t to say they will always make the right choices, but we have to allow our children to fail at times. The same rule applies in the business world. Society often views failure negatively, but if you never fail in your organizations, are you innovative? If something fails, acknowledge the mistake, and learn quickly from it. Failure is only a failure if you don’t learn anything from it. 

There are consequences for not fostering equally-owned innovation. When you do not have a culture of innovation, you are setting up your enterprise to become the next Blockbuster, and you open the doors for “shadow IT” to run rampant across your enterprise. Innovation is the root of scaling your automation program and filling your opportunity pipeline.  When you apply the four principles to your program, your employees become the catalyst for transformation instead of a hindrance.