Alex Goryachev
October 17, 2018

BTOES19 EXCLUSIVE Thought Leader Piece: Three Key Stages for Cultivating a Companywide Culture of Innovation Excellence


Three Key Stages for Cultivating a Companywide Culture of Innovation Excellence

Courtesy of CiscoAlex Goryachev has written an article discussing 'Three Key Stages for Cultivating a Companywide Culture of Innovation Excellence'Click here to see all BTOES19 Speakers.

With the rapid pace of digital disruption occurring in all industries, the phrase “disrupt or die” has never been more true. Organizations must innovate in order to remain competitive in today’s digital age, but many don’t know where to begin. Innovation is about more than just inventing new technologies or putting more money into R&D. In addition to moonshots that transform markets, some of the most innovative ideas in business are often new processes that create efficiencies and save money, or a better way of communicating with customers that improve service, for example.


Ultimately, innovation is a mindset and an attitude that must be embodied by every employee, regardless of their role or level in the company. Following is a proven process to create an innovation program in your own company that empowers employees to ideate and develop their own game-changing ideas:

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Stage 1: Collect and value feedback from employees

Listen to your employees. Utilize surveys, focus groups, chat platforms and meetings to collect feedback from employees in all positions and business units. Ask what they see as opportunities and challenges, and what resources and support they need in order to innovate. You may find that your employees want to innovate but lack the time, freedom, space or other resources necessary to do so. For your internal teams to develop their best ideas, you must foster an environment where everyone welcomes and respects ideas, along with input on areas for change or improvement.


Once you’ve received and analyzed employee feedback, shape a strategic plan along with other key business-unit leaders that empowers the entire company to innovate. This should begin as a grassroots movement led by employees, supported by an online collaboration forum where innovators and venture teams can share their ideas, co-develop them, and present them to the company’s decision makers. At Cisco, employee feedback spurred the creation of our annual Innovate Everywhere Challenge, an eight-month-long competition designed to simulate the real-world startup experience. Teams of employees from all roles within the organization are trained in self-directed methods to discover their own motivations and passions. They then learn the lean startup methodologies of ideate, validate, fund and build around their new venture ideas.


To involve more participants from throughout the organization, the competition also includes roles for employees who want to serve as volunteer mentors (we have +4,000) for the venture teams and for those who want to serve as “angel investors.” Investors are given virtual tokens they can use to back the teams with the ideas they like best and are also able to post ratings and comments, providing invaluable feedback to the participants. This annual competition has become very popular among employees—some 50 percent of our 74,000 global employees participate--resulting in thousands of venture ideas, dozens of which have been developed into real business solutions to date.


Innovation can happen anytime, anywhere and come from anyone. By soliciting feedback and participation from all employees across all functions, grades, and geographies, you can help ensure that your employees feel valued and inspired to bring forward their best ideas. 


Stage 2: Secure buy-in from the executive team

To create a successful innovation program that spans all business units of your company, it is essential to secure endorsement and commitment from your executive team, including the highest levels of the C-Suite. Employees need to see that innovation is a top priority and that executives are “walking the walk,” not merely paying lip service to the idea of innovation. Involve executives from every department, especially the CEO and head of HR, to get their active participation in the companywide innovation program. Once all leaders are on board, work together to map out how to engage and enable employees of all titles in all units to participate.


The employee feedback you gathered in stage 1 will help the executive team further shape the goals and procedures for the program. Decide whether you’ll create just a forum for sharing ideas or expand to a more formalized program involving a companywide challenge or contest, with incentives for participation and rewards for winners. Executives must be visibly involved in the innovation events and communications. Their commitment will cascade throughout the organization to inspire most everyone to participate, whether on a team, as an investor or interested party monitoring the progress of their favorite ventures. During the development of Cisco’s Innovate Everywhere Challenge, partners across the company worked together to determine how to involve every employee across 16 business functions. This peer and executive support proved monumental in the success of the initiative.


Above all, executives should work together to cultivate an environment that encourages employees to experiment and take risks without fearing repercussions. Bold ideas and big leaps in innovation rarely occur by playing it safe.


Stage 3: Align with corporate initiatives

When creating the guidelines and protocols for the companywide innovation program, make sure to align with the company’s strategic priorities. Know your overall goal for the program and the ideal results. Everything should relate to your business’ bottom line, and all guidelines for the program should reflect that.


Create a disciplined yet flexible approach allowing employees to be creative but also ensuring their ideas relate back to your corporate goals and desired business outcomes. For example, we designed a handy “periodic table” that encompasses key markets, technologies and business models for innovators to reference when co-developing their ideas into go-to-market solutions. Be transparent about your company’s goals for innovation within specific markets. Guidelines can provide a general framework about solutions for certain markets, such as digital solutions to improve urban services in a smart city. Or, they can be more specific about particular solutions and outcomes, such as focusing on ways to cut costs within your own company’s existing operations.  The scenarios depend on the culture and goals of the company, but in either case, it’s important to provide enough leeway for venture teams to pursue new directions they’re most passionate about. In other words, don’t be too rigid in your requirements.


Want more insight on how to unleash your employees’ entrepreneurial spirit and create a companywide culture of employee-led innovation? Attend my presentation at the Business Transformation & Operational Excellence World Summit (BTOES19) on March 21, 2019. I’ll explain how Cisco’s Innovate Everywhere Challenge enabled every employee in the company to innovate and share specific processes and methodologies for how you can create an innovation program to empower employees within your organization.

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About Cisco

Cisco was founded 1084 in San Francisco, California. They have preserved this keen focus on solving business challenges since then. Len Bosack and wife Sandy Lerner, both working for Stanford University, wanted to email each other from their respective offices, but technological shortcomings did not allow such communication. A technology had to be invented to deal with disparate local area protocols, and as a result of solving their challenge, the multiprotocol router was born.

About the Author

Alex Goryachev: Three Key Stages for Cultivating a Companywide Culture of Innovation Excellence

Alex Goryachev is an entrepreneurial go-getter. He takes risks, thinks ahead, and loves making way for new innovations. Over the past 20 years, he’s made it his business to turn disruptive concepts into emerging business models.

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For him, it’s all about a passion to create a strategy and then drive it home to “get things done.” And as Cisco’s managing director of Innovation Strategy and Programs, he has plenty of opportunities to put this passion to the test.

He sparks internal innovation by providing employees at all levels the chance to share their big ideas, many of which make their way into the company’s innovation engine. Alex also carries the torch for co-innovation across Cisco’s ecosystem.

He’s especially excited about Cisco's Innovation Centers, which can be found in major cities around the world. Led by Alex, these hubs bring together customers, partners, startups, accelerators, governments, research communities, and universities in a lab setting. Their goal is to discover, develop, and implement game-changing, outcome-based solutions.

He also heads up the Cisco Innovation Grand Challenges. These polished events help creative thinkers bring their technology ideas to life. And then there’s the Cisco Technology Radar, the company’s engine for identifying emerging technology transitions.

Alex began his Cisco journey in 2004 with a singular focus: Innovation. He defined and operationalized several high-profile Cisco initiatives, including the company’s Country Transformation plan for Cisco in emerging markets. He also held senior roles in Development, Marketing, Finance, and Channels, providing him a 360 view of how a great company ticks.

Prior to Cisco, Alex was a successful consultant with extended assignments at Napster, Liquid Audio, IBM Global Services, and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.

He was the “Emerging Stars” gold recipient of Brandon Hall Group’s 2016 Human Capital Management Excellence Awards Program, and his organization won golds for “Employee Engagement” and “Innovation Talent Management” programs. A sought-after keynoter and media authority on innovation, Alex has a passion for sharing knowledge, mentoring, and guiding innovation programs. 

I will be presenting on this topic at the Business Transformation & Operational Excellence World Summit (BTOES19)  

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