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3 tips to foster a culture of innovation

Sarah K. White | Oct. 6, 2016
Innovation is a hot topic in the corporate world these days, but what exactly does innovation look like in practice and how do you achieve it?

Technology and innovation

Innovation has been spurred on by the growth of technology in the enterprise as business have been forced to grow digitally as more industries rely on technology. For some businesses, PayPal included, innovation means embracing the latest technology and not holding workers back from their preferred forms of communication.

"There was a time when all the communication at companies used to be over the phone -- that was a long time ago -- and then a lot of that communication over time moved to email. And then, over time, it moved slowly to chat channels, and now the most popular chat channel is Slack." But rather than resist that change, Shivananda says PayPal has embraced it and encouraged it's use across the company. He says that, especially with millennials, mediums like Slack let them communicate how they're already used to communicating. That means, they're more likely to reach out to a colleague, ask questions and collaborate with others, thus fostering innovation.

Rucker says that companies need to have a clear understanding of how technology -- especially disruptive technology -- could impact the industry down the line. "Understand how social, mobile, analytics, cloud, the internet of things, and virtual reality can be applied to your industry, and then work to beat your competition at developing solutions that your customers actually want…not those that are best for you," she says.

She also calls for business units and technology units to join forces, rather than acting like separate entities, as they do at most companies. In her ideal setting, businesses would have a cohesive unit with the best and brightest business and technology leaders "working towards a common goal," she says.

Fostering internal innovation

At PayPal, departments are given a chance once a year to show what they're working on during an internal trade show. It's set up with booths, like any other conference, and teams create presentations to demonstrate what they're working on, building or theprogress they've made on recent initiatives. It not only builds a sense of community -- it also gets teams talking about similarities in their projects, and ways they can help support one another. Companies like PayPal can often feel large, with compartmentalized groups, so giving everyone a chance to connect and see what they're working on helps bolster innovation.

Innovation can also be about shaking things up in your company, and fostering future leadership. Shivananda says that, at PayPal, they introduced a program that lets 10 employees pick four teams they want to work for over the span of two years -- each completed in six month bursts. That means, an engineer might decide to go work for sales for six months, or in another region for another six months and then do a stint in tech support followed by some time in marketing. These are junior-level employees who show great promise in future leadership, he says, and as a result he says they've created more confident leaders. In fact, he says its where some of the company's most innovative and successful leaders were born. These leaders understand parts of the business they wouldn't have if they didn't spend time immersed in that unit, which gives them a unique perspective to guide the company.


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