On International Women’s Day, the world is rallying around the call to ‘Be Bold For Change’. Kate Eriksson explains why enterprises should also feel inspired to be more courageous and let the radical ideas drive progress.

Today’s large organisations have an extraordinary opportunity to drive growth, innovate future industries, and leverage digital capabilities and emerging technology. Yet few are taking it up.

International Women’s Day 2017 carries the theme ‘Be Bold For Change’. It’s a timely call to action. Not only can a bold approach achieve great outcomes for women on a societal and work level, but it’s a theme that Australian business leaders would do well to adopt.

‘Be Bold For Change’ is an invitation to leverage our workforce, relationships and talent in order to shift from downsizing and automating to a passion for designing and building new experiences, propositions, research capabilities and industries.

Being bold
on every level

There are generally four types of programs for large organisations delivering change. The opportunities to be bold are found everywhere: from delivering transformation or ‘fixing’ operations, to improving customer experiences, or ambitions for growth or societal impact.

In abundance are ‘transformation’ projects that intend to rapidly digitise and streamline existing products and services with greater speed and productivity. In practice, these can take years, tens of millions of dollars and yet may not incorporate the features that customers want.

Then comes those programs aimed at customer experiences, which strive to align departments to serve the customer better in the current and future state. These often follow with digitisation capabilities to support delivery of that target state.

For every industry or market that slows in growth, however, a new market emerges. For every transformation project or customer experience improvement, there should be a focus on those initiatives that offer new value to society, or a commitment to growth opportunities that bring new value to the economy. We should be bold on every level.

Are large businesses here really forging ahead in the vein of enterprises such as Amazon? Like all high-growth companies, Amazon shows a relentlessness for rethinking and reshaping every aspect of its business, from experience to scale, geographies and research.

Amazon has so far implemented a digitised and data-driven supply chain for everything from electrical to groceries and fresh foods. Beyond that, it’s achieved growth in its core business and 60% growth in ‘other revenue’¹ such as advertising. It’s won three Academy Awards for films produced by Amazon Studios². It’s pushed through with R&D for drone delivery and drone charging stations. In terms of sales and timeliness, it appears to be leading the smart home category with its Echo device³.  And – let’s not forget – Amazon is expanding into Australia this year.  My point isn’t about the threats, though; it’s about the possibilities.

radical ideas

Though growth in telecoms, banking, taxis, aged care and so on is both complex and challenging, there’s an often neglected option: which is to re-think at every level the way we deliver new value and streamlined experiences, in a far more dramatic way than we see today.

As performance in saturated industries declines, for some reason it feels that leaders have less time and patience for new ideas, outside-in thinking or fresh collaborations. Meanwhile, shareholders increase their calls for organisations to demonstrate future returns.

Bold outcomes require bold moves. Could it be the case that there is too much respect for business leaders’ knowledge for their teams to feel comfortable offering radical alternative views? Almost every successful innovation or breakthrough is a result of a departure from the norm.

What does
a bold organisation look like?

If businesses are truly striving for the next-level approach, these are the outcomes to aim for, with suggestions for how to achieve them:

*  Leadership that steps forward with a bolder vision, deliberately communicating to both the market and shareholders that the new risk is not pursuing radical growth.

There are some compelling examples of this4. Certainly, in my own work with large corporations across the market, I recommend measures to highlight lack of innovation culture as a risk.

*  A workforce – at every level – that is ignited and inspired to do with their jobs and budgets, what specialist innovation groups do today.

One suggestion is to provide digitised tools, templates, conversations and support for those who wish to navigate their own way forward. This includes the ability to self-select projects and ways of working.

*  Major programs with mandated outside-in thinking to challenge and provoke innovation. These sessions, at commencement and set milestones, encourage external participation in an intense, collaborative process.

The result should be a bold new option on the table, one that may render previous incremental plans unrecognisable. For projects in flight, it may be how a roadmap item (for example, customer support) is implemented differently.

Recently, when addressing a group of Australian business leaders, I highlighted how reasonable their current options for consideration were – and recommended they introduce a radical alternative for major decisions, alongside the usual one. Something clicked – and their feedback was that effective immediately, this would be the new way board meetings (for one) and AGMs (for another) would now operate.

Even if they’re not adopted, new possibilities cannot be unseen. We’ve begun a ‘radical option’ process in every scenario we can for market conversations: harbouring a healthy disrespect for the history around current choices.

*  A digitised business that’s leveraging emerging technology, not because it’s cool but because, with the deep insight you have, you’ll soon uncover exactly what to apply it to.

In these cases, as leading futurist Jeff Cole says, your learning curve must be greater than your deployment (or action) curve. What do you see emerging? How could it be applied? How can you test it – if it seems relevant – in one store, or on ten customers, or a sales team?

*  Greater collaboration between brands, and leveraging partners in the shift to non-core functions being provided as a service.

As an exercise, choose three brands in different markets or industries. In a few minutes, prepare and pitch a new service or experience that combines all three. It starts over a napkin and some facts or concepts, and usually accelerates around marketplaces and into propositions for a global marketplace. A recent brainstorm I facilitated between three Australian CEOs was extraordinary – and a lot of fun.

*  In a massive change of momentum, innovation hubs that have morphed into rapid growth accelerators for bold new businesses to empower expansion. We will also see new breed of research, strategy, ventures and design thinking. Australia’s innovation group Data61 is one of the leaders in this respect, with tens of corporate and research partnerships. Australian organisations (and consumers) must go beyond consuming – to start designing, discovering and making.

It’s repetitious to revisit the range of reasons why, and how, to innovate. In the spirit of being bold for change, the key message today is to create a radical idea for everything.

In time, Australian leaders will look back on what seemed bold once, and wonder why we didn’t dial up the exploration higher or earlier.

We have the chance to benefit society as a whole, in the way we grow, improve lives, and role-model entrepreneurialism to the generations following us. Thinking of the women who most changed the world over the course of history: they made choices that seemed bold in their time, but one day became well accepted.

“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, politician and former First Lady of the US

Kate Eriksson will be joining the panel of Swinburne University’s public panel discussion, ‘Creating an enduring social innovation ecosystem: people, policy, and technology’ in Melbourne on Friday 31st March 2017.

PwC Australia has published the Women in Work Index for International Women’s Day. Click here to read the results.



Kate Bennett Eriksson

Kate is PwC Australia’s head of innovation and disruption.

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