Useful tips on how to root innovation culture in an organisation – examples from Studio Idean, Milrem Robotics, SEB and AND InCap

5 March / Kristi Jõeäär

At the last Innovation Leaders Club event, top managers from four organisations shared their experiences and tips on rooting innovation culture and sustainable growth. The event was held in the headquarters of Milrem Robotics.

The Story of a Global Design Leader Studio Idean: How to Create a Sustainable Innovation Culture?

Studio Idean is a global design studio with over 700 employees. They have advised companies like IBM, Cisco, Philips, IKEA, etc. From Studio Idean, Mikko-Pekka Hanski shared his experiences about innovation culture. Hanski said, “Innovative ideas are born in conversations and by encouraging those conversations.”. In his experience, innovation cannot be done alone. Relevant stakeholders must be identified inside the company who will amplify your message through storytelling. “This cannot be outsourced form an advertising agency or forced on people.”

Hanski summed up his presentation with the thought that creating a sustainable innovation culture depends on how people are treated and how changes are led.

How Innovation Culture was Started at SEB Group

SEB Group’s Head of Business Innovation, Mart Maasik began his presentation with an intriguing thought that company’s internal culture cannot be controlled because the culture is what people start talking about the company when the boss leaves the room. “There are innovators in every company just that they are not visible – your KPI-s don’t let them stick out,” said Maasik. In order to find those innovation minded people from inside SEB who are led by client-focused mindset and who are open to involving internal and external experts, SEB Innovation Lab was created in 2015 with three main goals:

  1.       All we do has to deliver value to clients – if there’s no value, the project is canceled;
  2.       There are a lot of good ideas – it’s important to set the right priorities;
  3.       Innovators inside the company have to be used to strengthen the internal innovation culture.

Like Mikko-Pekka Hanski, Mart Maasik said that it’s the people who are in the center of innovation.

Milrem Robotics Approach to Innovation: How to Turn Technological Innovation into Business Solutions?

Milrem Robotics, a defense industry company that hosted the event, has four offices in three countries with over 100 employees. Kuldar Väärsi, CEO and founder of Milrem Robotics, stated that his recipe for constant innovation is to maintain an open and flexible approach to working with new and crazy ideas. “You can never know when some crazy idea turns into a new market or a solution disrupting the whole market. How to sustain this flexibility and dynamics as the company grows – that is the challenge,” he said.

Mart Noorma, the Science and Development Director at Milrem, mentioned that Milrem’s innovation culture is based on partnerships with other companies as well as universities and governments from more than 30 countries.

When Milrem entered the market six years ago, no one believed that robotics on the battlefield will be the future. Being the pioneer at that time has made this small Estonian company one of the leaders of the whole industry globally. Today, Milrem is part of the Council of Secretary General of NATO and has its say in how to be informed of the reforms in the defense industry and how to implement those reforms. “Our industry is so complex that it is really difficult to be successful alone,” Noorma emphasised.

When Kuldar Väärsi was asked to give some advice to the startups that would like to be part of the defense industry, he recommended thinking it through very thoroughly. He told that finding investments is difficult in their industry and having a good network is essential to get a foot in the doorway. Both Väärsi and Noorma admitted that another crucial aspect for succeeding is having your domestic market as a reference client – if your home country’s military does not use your product or solution, no one else will.

InCap Corporation: Encouraging Innovation Through Decentralised Management

Electronics company InCap Group’s CEO Otto Richard Pukk and InCap Electronics Estonia’s CEO Greg Grace shared their recipe on how to encourage innovation in a company that uses decentralized management. InCap Group has been around for 35 years already, is listed on the stock exchange and offers jobs to more than 1300 employees in 6 countries.

Otto Richard Pukk told that at InCap, innovation is motivated by decentralized management and the employees’ opportunity to impact their company’s business. On top of that, innovative ideas are rewarded with a bonus too but bonus systems are decentralized as well, meaning that they are the same for the managers and employees.

In Otto Richard Pukk’s opinion, the problem with centralized management is the long decision-making process. “By the time the problem reaches the top management, it has probably grown bigger and altered. Now when the decision is made and reaches back down, the problem might already be totally different. If you as a manager try to control everything and everybody, you have no time left for actual management,” he said. Pukk therefore said that the key is to surround yourself with good people who are smarter than you are. “You can’t be an expert in everything,” he admitted. At InCap, the general philosophy is that a bad decision is still better than no decision. Bad decisions allow moving on and corrections can be done later along the way. “Making mistakes is okay, innovation is all about experimenting,” Pukk said.

Pukk thinks that people should be given a freedom to develop themselves and not only in company’s interests. “We train our employees, but often we also invite competitors to our trainings because on a larger scale, it is good for all of us when the industry develops. Our competitors can also become our clients or vice versa – life is never linear,” said Pukk as he summarized InCap’s philosophy.

Short Summary of the Innovation Tips Shared in the Panel Discussion

The event was finalised by the panel moderated by Tehnopol’s Innovation Manager Kadi Villers. Every company shared their main recommendations on how to initiate and sustain innovation culture:

  • Milrem Robotics recommended innovating with the help of external partners who can be other companies, universities, or governments. “That will give an advantage in speed and flexibility.”
  • InCap’s CEO recommended creating an environment where failure is accepted and decision-making is encouraged. “Responsibility is not given – it is taken!”
  • Studio Idean recommends following the principle of diversity in recruiting – onboarding people with different education and background will bring your organisation freshness and new ideas.

SEB Group recommends trying out new tools and solutions to foster innovation because there is no universal tool for that. “You have to experiment and find the best tool for your company.”