Back to business after the summer holidays: 8 innovation resolutions

There’s various ways to get your team back into the swing of things after the holidays, such as implementing emerging technologies and initiating organisational interventions.
Industries
Management
  • Implement algorithmic management and data driven systems
  • Consider robotics to take over repetitive and predictable tasks
  • Get on the cloud
  • Improve your cyber resilience 
  • Get hyper-connected by implementing multi-device management platforms
  • Consider upgrading your HRM and leadership
  • Implement ‘Innovation Fridays’
  • Cultivate the right mindset

Summer holidays are often followed by post-holiday and back-to-work blues. To avoid things dragging and drifting it’s important to inject a fresh dose of energy into your business activities. There’s a number of things you can do to get your team back into the swing of things, such as implementing emerging technologies, kickstarting smart innovation strategies, and initiating organisational interventions.

1. Technological interventions

It’s no wonder organisations worldwide are turning to technology to solve business challenges exacerbated by not only the pandemic but also the post-holiday slump. Implementing algorithmic management systems and robotics technology could vastly improve the efficiency of your organisation, and getting on the cloud and upgrading your cyber resilience will ensure that your company is better prepared for all kinds of eventualities.

1.1 Implement algorithmic management and data driven systems

More and more companies are incorporating algorithmic management, which is based on data from, for example, seasonal patterns, customer demand, and past sales figures. With this information, labour demand can be predicted and workers automatically scheduled. This type of algorithmic management is increasingly used in the service industry as well as retail. When it comes to people analytics, algorithms use data on employee behaviour to provide recommendations regarding performance appraisal, motivation, and promotion. Algorithmic decision-making is also becoming popular for recruitment purposes. It is used in CV screening as well as evaluations of telephone or video interviews.

Here are some examples of well-known companies who have implemented algorithmic management and use digital surveillance to measure and control employee performance:

Deliveroo

Deliveroo couriers receive monthly reports about their performance which include data on their average travel time to customers and restaurants, their average time to accept orders, and the number of unassigned and late orders. To give you an idea of what’s expected, Deliveroo wants its drivers to accept new customer orders within an astonishing 30 seconds. Furthermore, the algorithm compares each courier’s performance to its own estimate of how fast the drivers should have been.

HireVue

HireVue, a leading software provider for screening job candidates, previously experimented with facial analysis AI to analyse a candidate’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and use of language to discern certain characteristics. The company claimed their system could speed up the hiring process by 90 per cent, but decided to eliminate this feature due to public concerns around bias and the reinforcement of societal inequalities. According to Alex Engler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and expert on AI hiring, “The idea of using AI to determine someone’s ability, whether it is based on video, audio, or text, is far-fetched. It is also problematic that the public cannot vet such claims.”

Amazon

Algorithms also manage employees at Amazon fulfilment centres around the world. The algorithms tell them which products they need to pick, store, move, and ship. Workers have said they constantly feel pressured to improve their pick rate, as this is used to calculate the number of items picked from the shelves on an hourly basis. Pickers scan the items with a handheld device and every item’s progress throughout the fulfillment centre is constantly monitored via a series of points at which it is scanned again. In some warehouses, the pickers’ handheld devices count down the remaining seconds before they need to retrieve the next item in order to meet their performance targets.

As you can imagine from the above examples, applying algorithms to enforce tight management controls or closely monitor employees can, however, also lead to demotivation and even legal problems. Employees who don’t have a thorough understanding of how an algorithm arrives at its decisions often worry about how the software rates them and feel insecure about their performance.

1.2 Consider robotics for repetitive and predictable tasks

As robotics technology advances, so too does the opportunity for robots to be used in more industries. And there has never been a more critical time for humankind to implement technology. It’s a good way to give your business a boost – not only post-corona, but after the summer break as well. Robots have already started working in various sectors. Think user-controlled robots like surgical robots, drones and machines on construction sites, or autonomous robots that can perform a wide range of tasks without any human involvement. Autonomous robots are often equipped with scanners, cameras, and sensor systems and are ‘trained’ to carry out their tasks. 

The Neurala Brain, developed by AI software developer Neurala, for instance, can make all kinds of smart devices even smarter. The Neurala Brain emulates brain functions commonly found in mammals. The ‘brain’ comes in a small sensor package that can be used in any type of machine with a camera, such as drones, toys, industrial robots, and autonomous vehicles. The technology has already been integrated in more than nine million devices, boosting intelligence in phones, cars, cameras, and drones. The Neurala Brain is used by major organisations like NVIDIA, DARPA, NASA, and Motorola. 

Another company that uses the Neurala Brain is IHI Corporation, a manufacturer of aircraft engines, automotive and industrial turbochargers, and other transport-related equipment. “We found Neurala’s Brain Builder platform to be superior to other standard vision inspection systems when it comes to both detection accuracy and processing speed. Brain Builder uses AI to accurately detect specific kinds of objects from images. This has been key for annotating data that is then used to ensure the platform is accurately detecting any objects on the production line,” said Yukihiro Kawano, general manager of IHI’s IoT Project Department. 

1.3 Get on the cloud

As more and more companies transition to remote working, local in-house servers will be increasingly replaced by cloud storage solutions. This eliminates the need for organisations to keep all their data on their premises and also leads to considerable cost savings, as purchasing, securing, and managing servers can become very costly. With the viability of on-site servers and dedicated IT teams to manage them diminishing, more and more data will eventually be stored and managed in the cloud.

And as AI integration is set to increase, cloud computing will become even more efficient and cost effective. Artificial intelligence also enables companies to have easier and more convenient access to their data as a result of the increased interoperability between data sources, locations, and software. This improved access enables companies to make better business decisions and innovate their product and service offerings. 

The most important cloud service providers worldwide, like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, are now also offering virtual cloud desktop systems. These enable remote employees to access all the office apps they would otherwise access at the office – but from their remote location, and on multiple compatible devices. As everyone involved in the company uses the same synchronised technology, these virtual desktops will lead to a much more productive (remote) workplace, and more efficient collaboration.

While cloud computing also has its downsides, if you consider its ever more widespread use, the numerous benefits – such as more efficiency, flexibility, and scalability – clearly outweigh the disadvantages. One example of a company that has seen tremendous growth as a direct result of its migration to the cloud is Netflix. The streaming behemoth is now capable of producing increasingly larger content volumes, easily manages sudden increases in usage spikes, and can handle large influxes of viewers. The company is also able to reduce or add storage amounts in real time as and when the need arises.

1.4 Improve your cyber resilience 

From a cybersecurity perspective, the post-pandemic workplace, with its remote teams and cloud-based technologies, unfortunately also poses nightmarish challenges. The central networks accessed by fully remote employees can generally be adequately protected. But so-called ‘hybrid’ employees, who work either at the office or at a remote location, expose these networks to increased risk every time they log in at the office. They could, for instance, infect the systems with malware or other viruses. In fact, in 2020, 61 per cent of malware infiltrated networks via cloud applications used by hybrid employees. The frequency, scale, and sophistication of cybercrime are expected to increase, especially now that we are becoming more and more dependent on these digital and virtual technologies. It’s critical for companies to reevaluate and finetune their cybersecurity practices and, even more importantly, to invest in adequate protection before transitioning to hybrid and remote workplaces. Instead of cybersecurity being solely an IT or a tech issue, it should become the most important operational and organisational priority.

According to Accenture Security’s State of Cyber Resilience survey, a mere 17 per cent of organisations are deemed ‘leaders’ when it comes to cyber resilience – as in high performers when it comes to finding and fixing breaches, stopping cyber attacks, and reducing the impact of cybercrime. According to the North America lead for Accenture Security, Ryan LaSalle, “The most surprising finding for us was just how much better the leaders in cyber resilience are doing versus the rest of the pack. We found that organisations with leading cybersecurity capabilities are nearly four times more effective than other companies at stopping cyber attacks and finding breaches faster.”

1.5 Get hyper-connected by implementing multi-device management platforms

We have entered an era of multi-connection. We spend more and more time interacting with our devices, and we use them interchangeably to search, learn, compare, navigate, buy, connect, and manage our lives. We interact with our mobile phones, work on our laptops or tablets, play video games on various devices, and monitor our activities via our wearables. Our multi-device usage even extends to the office, a reality that has prompted many companies to develop BYOD (bring your own device) policies to increase convenience and lower the cost of purchasing devices.

Using personal devices at the office, however, leads to a number of challenges around multi-device security. This is where MDM platforms come in. These secure platforms enable the monitoring and evaluation of all outside devices that join the company network and access the company software. MDM platforms usually include virus, malware, and data breach detection capabilities. They can also impose limitations aligned with the company’s security objectives by, for instance, restricting access to specific users, monitoring (suspicious) user activity, scanning devices to ensure they meet system and hardware requirements, and so on. Multi-device management systems can also be used to monitor employee productivity and ensure compliance with company IT policies. 

2.  Organisational interventions

Getting your organisation off to a good post-holiday start isn’t just about implementing the latest technologies and innovations, but also about organisational interventions. What can companies do to improve their employees’ mindset and revamp their leadership strategies? Could HRM departments do with a 21st-century upgrade? How about introducing ‘Innovation Fridays’?

2.1 Consider upgrading your HRM and leadership

Employee wellbeing has been on the radar for quite some time now, and business leaders really need to start realising its importance – not only for their employees, but for the company’s bottom line as well. And the post-holiday phase is a great time to reflect and see where improvement is needed. 21st-century employees are evolving. They’re acquiring competencies that meet global criteria, yet organisations are sadly lagging behind. HRM departments need to think in innovative ways and implement creative solutions to improve employee wellbeing, and encourage leaders to be intentional about building solid relationships within their teams. All of which are critical to business success. According to Tracey Keele, advisory partner & culture co-lead at KPMG, “when you feel valued and see your impact, you feel better, you have more energy and you want to be doing those good things you’re getting recognised for. It’s another way to reinforce our culture.” 21st-century employees flourish in a workplace that enables them to work independently, purposefully, and meaningfully. They want to showcase and be valued for their talent, creativity and innovative skills. 

2.2 Implement ‘Innovation Fridays’

Companies who don’t realise the importance of setting aside time for innovation will risk seeing their chances of success diminish. Companies need to make time for people to be creative and come up with innovative ideas. One way to do this – and the post-holiday period is the ideal time – is to dedicate Fridays to innovation. Each week, leaders and their teams should commit to doing at least one innovative thing on that day. This can be something small, like choosing a new venue for a brainstorm; as long as you involve everyone and ‘do’ innovation together, giving everyone the opportunity to be creative, to think and act differently, and challenge the status quo. Engaging employees this way can transform your organisation, one Friday at a time, into an engaging, productive, and innovative place to work. 

Google, for instance, has their ‘Note-and-Vote’ method, which has been used for deciding all kinds of stuff – from where to go for lunch, to choosing product features, and even selecting names for companies. 

This is how they do it:

All people in the room get a piece of paper and a pen. Then the timer is set. Within ten minutes, they write down as many ideas as possible. Then everyone gets another two minutes to choose up to two favourites from their own list. Next, everyone shares their favourite ideas, which are written on a whiteboard. During the next five minutes, everyone selects a favourite idea from the whiteboard and writes down their vote for the idea. Then, all votes are written down on the whiteboard. Finally, the ‘decider’ chooses the idea to go with. The entire session takes no more than 15 minutes.

Jake Knapp from the Google Ventures team says: “The Note-and-Vote isn’t perfect, but it is fast. And it’s quite likely better than what you’d get with two hours of the old way.”

Another technique that can be used on Innovation Fridays is ‘question storming’ or the ‘question formulation technique’ (QFT), which is used by companies like Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft, and MIT. The QFT method was developed by the Right Question Institute and involves five steps:

  • Question focus: A statement about which the team needs to generate questions.
  • Generate questions: People in small teams spend approximately 10 minutes thinking of questions, which are written down by one member of each team.
  • Improve on the questions: The questions are expanded or refined.
  • Prioritise the questions: Each team chooses its favourite questions and shares them with the larger team. Top questions are chosen, based on their power to kickstart new thought processes or spark innovation.
  • Determine next steps: Questions need to be answered, which calls for action and the next step.

2.3 Cultivate the right mindset

Another great way to breathe life into the goings-on at work after the summer break is to focus on cultivating your employees’ mindsets, which can significantly impact their performance. People with a growth mindset believe that their efforts and those of others will lead to success and that setbacks should be seen as opportunities. A growth mindset`greatly enhances personal development but also makes employees more effective team players. They will be more motivated to improve with constructive feedback and have the ability to adapt their attitude, behaviour, and skills. Furthermore, a growth mindset enables employees to be open to sharing their knowledge and helping others succeed. 

Encouraging employees to develop a growth mindset requires the following key factors:

  • Lead by example and be inspirational. Seeing people being successful inspires others to become successful as well.
  • Encourage employees to believe in themselves and show them that their talents can be enhanced by putting in the time and effort.
  • Show employees that learning from failure is an important part of a growth mindset. Give people time to improve what was not successful the first time. 
  • Motivate your employees to excel. People with a growth mindset are driven by challenges that lead them to their goals.
  • Create a culture of learning and growth – if learning opportunities are available, employees will take advantage of them. 
  • Help your employees love what they do, so that they become more motivated to grow.

According to Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University, “People approach learning with one of two ‘mindsets’. Someone with a fixed mindset will, when stuck, assume they have reached the limit of their abilities. A person with a growth mindset, on the other hand, will see the same problem as a challenge and an opportunity to learn more.”

In closing

As you can see, there’s a myriad of options when it comes to getting your company off to a great post-holiday start. You could implement technologies like algorithmic management systems or consider investing in robotics to take over repetitive and predictable tasks. Another great way to boost the efficiency of your business is to get on the cloud. And now, more than ever, it’s important to protect your company from cyber attacks, which requires giving your cyber resilience a boost. In terms of organisational interventions, you could look at upgrading your HRM and leadership, or consider introducing new ways to brainstorm and innovate through concepts like Innovation Fridays. 

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