Navigating through Chaotic Times

March 19, 2020

InnoLead’s most recent webcast focused on how teams can navigate through chaotic times and what best practices can help innovators continue their missions. Panelists on the call shared advice from their tenure in large companies. Guests on the call included:

  • Chandra Ramanathan — Global Head of Bayer’s Pharmaceutical R&D Open Innovation
  • Russell Rogers — Former VP of Global Innovations, Blue Shield of California
  • Dennis McGrath — Former GM at Plated & VP of Global Innovation at Starbucks
  • Nancy Tennant — Professor; Former Chief Innovation Officer at Whirlpool
  • Mark Polson — Former VP of Creativity and Business Innovation at Estée Lauder

And joining us via audio were Alex Goryachev, Managing Director of Cisco’s Global Co-Innovation Network, and Danielle Winandy, Head of the RISK Innovation Office at BNP Paribas. During the webcast, these experts discussed best practices for managing innovation teams remotely, why it is important to shift focus right now, how to create value for organizations with much shorter time horizons, and how to stay connected with the business units. 

During the conversation, the InnoLead team also tapped participant for answers to four questions. This slide deck gathers results from those polls. 

Best Practices for Navigating Uncertainty

Focus on the core business. In times of growth, innovation teams can focus on disruptive, transformational projects. However, Tennant says in recessionary periods, innovation teams should run lean and focus on projects that have a more immediate return on investment. “At Whirlpool, when we hit the recession, we moved the innovation teams over to [cost-saving] projects. It wasn’t where our heart was, but that was the most pressing problem,” Tennant says. “There are no hills worth dying on in innovation, and we should be like water. Wherever the organization needs us, we need to move there, and help, and be relevant.”

Utilize your design thinking toolkit. As companies change their focus, Polson recommends using design thinking to stay responsive. “The principles of design thinking  are really important here, especially…empathy, the ability to iterate, and pivot easily,” he says.

Find the gaps and fill them. According to Rogers, innovation teams may view themselves as special, separate groups in large organizations. In times of uncertainty, he says, these groups must instead be a resource for other parts of the business. “Now it’s our opportunity to say, ‘Hey, how can we help the core business? … [We’re] an adaptable group, and we can fill a lot of gaps that you may need filled,'” Rogers says.

Keep track of what works. During this time of remote work and uncertainty, Rogers also recommends that innovation teams record best practices for the future. “Let’s do a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of this move to online, and then capture some best practices that we [will] share with our organizations,” Rogers says. “After this coronavirus event finally passes…there may be some work practices that never go back to normal, because we realize that some of the things that we were forced to do remotely, are better for the organization or the individuals.”

Set virtual office hours. Keeping the virtual door open for a few hours a day allows team members to stay connected and chat openly about their work projects — and lives. Another tip Ramanathan served up is creating a set time period for silent work over video chat. “At 11 o’clock every day, everyone gets on to Zoom, and they go into silent mode. So they want to create a feeling that they are all seeing each other…[in] a virtual office space,” Ramanathan says. “Seeing people on the screen gives them more of [that connected] feeling.”

Tools for Working Remotely 

  • Video conferencing software — including Zoom, Google Hangout, GoToMeeting, and WebEx — allow teams to run meetings while remote.
  • MURAL enables teams to draw on a virtual whiteboard and drop sticky notes collaboratively.
  • Box and Google Drive allow teams to work together on notes documents, regardless of their location.
  • On Teooh, users can create an online avatar and participate in virtual events.

Stay close to the front lines. While some people may feel isolated or paralyzed, McGrath recommends that innovation teams stay in touch with their end users’ needs. “Figure out a way to get and stay as close to the front lines as possible, [even] through an informal connection with someone…who’s closest to the customer,” McGrath says. “That’s actually going to help inform and prioritize innovation as you begin to recover, and also in positioning the innovation team for the future.”