by Elaine Cercado
On valuing DIVERSITY and CREATIVITY
Greg, my ex-boss in a business unit where I worked for five years, taught me a lot about leveraging team diversity and creativity to push the boundaries of a mature business.
Our business was growing in most areas, but the growth had slowed down due to external factors like technology substitution and competitive pressures. Hence, our key challenge was how to continuously grow our business and to excite ourselves and our teams to “go beyond.”
Greg’s approach was systematic, at the same time, flexible as it allowed creative ideas to flow. After annual strategic and operating plans were established, he would set up key task forces, who would set up goals, processes and specific actions to achieve the organization’s strategy for that year. Asia-Pacific was a territory made up of so many countries, hence, Greg made sure there was a good balance and mix. For example, a task force on HR development would have business, sales and finance representations, while a task force focused on launching new solutions would have members from field sales, marketing, R&D and technical services. The members could come from emerging and advanced countries, small and big revenue-generating areas, English and non-English speaking countries. The approach required a certain process to be adopted, while allowing for creative ideas to be tested or piloted, and rolled out to a broader or deeper level. I learned a lot from participating in these task forces.
First, I learned to use relevant stimulus materials / models for analysis. Some of these were first learned from MBA, some were learned on the job. The great part was applying these models to the business. There were successful and not so successful applications but the process certainly enriched all those who participated.
Second, I learned to work with a team of diverse people and achieve results with or through them. Listening to different viewpoints and learning from the experiences widened my knowledge and made me a better communicator. I learned to respect and value the ideas of my peers, and at times, to combine my ideas and come up with a third alternative. It was team work and synergy at its best.
Third, I became more learned and passionate. The setup challenged us individually and as a group. As we (task forces) had to provide regular updates to the regional management team, we had to make sure we came up with solutions. Our updates had to show measurable progress and results, thus, we could not afford to get stuck. We went beyond our usual work hours and duties – but learned more and enjoyed the whole process. I learned to research, to network, to go beyond my comfort zones not because I was assigned to do so, but because I had a genuine curiosity and desire to learn and do something new.
In a mature business, there could be a tendency to be complacent and to keep on doing the same things. But Greg’s openness to diverse and creative ideas, combine with his methodical approach to ensure such ideas flowed and got implemented successfully, broke boundaries. He successfully reinvented a mature business to make it as exciting as a new business.