Alex Goryachev, Senior Director of Innovation Strategy and Programs at Cisco, described how encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset can ignite innovation across an entire organization.
Goryachev began his keynote presentation at the 2016 Human Capital Leadership Forum held on September 28 in Los Angeles by pointing out that transformation is more about the innovator than innovation—people are what make the difference. “My focus is on inspiring innovation in our employees. My team and I have been able to change individual employee experience in a company of 72,000,” he said.
“The number of start-ups is increasing, but their mortality rate remains the same,” Goryachev pointed out. “At the same time, the lifespan of Fortune 500 companies is decreasing. In 10 years, it’s predicted that more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies that exist today will no longer be around. There’s one reason for this—these companies missed an important transition,” he observed.
“We’ve been seeing quite a few unicorns these days—companies that seem to come out of nowhere and are immediately popular. These start-ups have the ability to attract the best and brightest employees, but they don’t necessarily pay them top dollar. People go to these companies because they believe they’ll make a difference,” said Goyachev.
“There are two reasons all of this is happening: the cost of starting a business is pretty low and the cost of computing power is also low. An iPhone has more data than a supercomputer had 10 years ago. Data is accessible to everyone, and it’s free. One of the few remaining valuable assets is human talent, and companies are fighting for it,” he said.
Goryachev continued, “The message is ‘disrupt or be disrupted.’ At my company, we decided to disrupt ourselves before somebody else did.” He outlined the primary disruptive factors:
• The speed of innovation is accelerating.
• Ideas and challenges come from anywhere.
• The competitive landscape shifts constantly.
• Leaders are confused, and they want to go back to ‘normal.’ “There’s no more normal. We need to learn how to operate in ongoing chaos.”
• Talent is essential. “It’s what separates a successful company from an unsuccessful company. HR, not technology, is the lead change agent in innovation.”
“The message is ‘disrupt or be disrupted.’ At my company, we decided to disrupt ourselves before somebody else did.”
“The solution? Think like a start-up,” advised Goryachev. “What’s innovation? It’s the constant ability to sustain change. To be innovative, we need to be agile. However, it’s difficult to think like a start-up in a big company. In start-ups, it’s like a team sport—there’s a level playing field, little hierarchy, and people tend to be about the same age with the same values. Big companies have more politics, less trust, and a more layered compensation structure, but they’re better able to scale and get products to market faster. In the last few years, we’ve been identifying the essential attributes of a start-up culture and how to bring these into a large company.” Goryachev noted that partners in a start-up:
• Have a shared purpose
• Are motivated and highly engaged
• Are proud and determined
“The solution? Think like a start-up. In the last few years, we’ve been identifying the essential attributes of a start-up culture and how to bring these into a large company.”
To accomplish true innovation, this is what Goryachev’s team did:
• Gained an understanding of the corporate priorities in which the company wanted its employees to innovate.
• Met with every executive leader of the company to secure their commitment to listen to employee ideas, support those ideas, and, if those ideas are good, fund them and give the employee time to carry them out.
• Set up a network of coaches and mentors.
• Instituted practical incentives and rewards. “We give the same funding to an employee with a winning idea as we’d give to a start-up—a quarter million dollars,” said Goryachev.
“We give the same funding to an employee with a winning idea as we’d give to a start-up—a quarter million dollars.”
Another aspect that Goryachev found to be essential to a start-up mentality is employees co-innovating with customers/partners/suppliers. “Bring in the customer as early as possible. Create a safe space for this conversation to take place, because magic happens. Many employees don’t understand customer needs, but once they do, those employees become change agents.”
In summary, Goryachev emphasized the following:
• HR has a duty to drive innovative initiatives.
• The lonely innovator is a myth; innovation is about people and engagement.
• Think innovators, not innovation.
ABOUT ALEX GORYACHEV:
Alex Goryachev is an entrepreneurial go-getter. He takes risks, thinks ahead, and loves making way for new innovations. Over the past 20 years, he’s made it his business to turn disruptive concepts into emerging business models.
For him, it’s all about a passion to create a strategy and then drive it home to “get things done.” As Cisco’s senior director of Innovation Strategy and Programs, he has plenty of opportunities to put this passion to the test.
He sparks internal innovation by providing employees at all levels the chance to share their big ideas, many of which make their way into the company’s innovation engine. Alex also carries the torch for co-innovation across Cisco’s ecosystem. He’s especially excited about Cisco's Innovation Centers, which can be found in major cities around the world. Led by Alex, these hubs bring together customers, partners, startups, accelerators, governments, research communities, and universities in a lab setting. Their goal is to discover, develop, and implement game-changing, outcome-based solutions.
He also heads up the Cisco Innovation Grand Challenges. These polished events help creative thinkers bring their technology ideas to life. And then there’s the Cisco Technology Radar, the company’s engine for identifying emerging technology transitions.
Alex began his Cisco journey in 2004 with a singular focus: Innovation. He defined and operationalized several high-profile Cisco initiatives including the company’s Country Transformation plan for Cisco in emerging markets. He also held senior roles in Development, Marketing, Finance, and Channels, providing him a 360 view of how a great company ticks.
Prior to Cisco, Alex was a successful consultant with extended assignments at Napster, Liquid Audio, IBM Global Services, and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.