How Ideation Transformed the Culture of the Largest Bank in the Southern Hemisphere

By Jeremy Brown | Culture
June 15, 2017
89% of Spigit customers are leveraging ideation to create a culture of innovation.

That’s a stat we uncovered in our 2017 Business Innovation Report.

Establishing a culture of innovation is a hot topic. It’s on the shortlist of strategic initiatives executives around the world are implementing to transform their organizations. However, it takes investment both from a resource and effort standpoint.

Commonwealth Bank, the largest bank in the Southern Hemisphere, is an example of a company that has heavily invested in the creation of a culture of innovation and as a result of their efforts has started to see the fruits of their investment.

In an article on their blog, Commonwealth Bank describes how their internal ideation program – CommBank Intrapreneur – has been instrumental in transforming its culture. Through this program, 50,000 employees are empowered to channel their inner entrepreneur to improve the financial well-being of clients and customers.

General Manager of Commonwealth Bank’s Innovation Labs, Tiziana Bianco, explains: “The democratisation of innovation is how we future fit our organisation. We need every employee to be curious, to understand customer needs and develop creative confidence. The culture of innovation that Intrapreneur champions touches all areas of our business and all employees.”

So, how does ideation and creating intrapreneurs – also known as someone within a company who takes risks – enable culture shift? Read on.

Creating a culture of innovation through ideation

To understand why ideation enables cultural transformation, you first need to understand the growth of entrepreneurship.

Over the past 5-7 years, there has been an explosion in entrepreneurship. Some say starting a business has reached the realm of being the “cool” thing to do; the barriers to entry have reduced significantly. Others say it’s a generational phenomenon with millennials having the entrepreneurial bug.

Regardless of what camp you fall into, one thing’s for certain: people have entrepreneurial tendencies and with that comes an eagerness to contribute ideas. Unfortunately, too many companies miss this opportunity only to see employees leave and start companies or share their ideas with organizations that encourage their involvement.

We talk a lot about tapping into the collective intelligence of employees through ideation and why it matters for companies. We can get into the fact that it’s a phenomenal way to increase employee engagement, or that it enables you to identify solutions to problems faster. Ultimately, ideation facilitates the development of intrapreneurship.

When you have an entire employee base that’s empowered to think creatively, strategically, and that know their ideas will be heard and taken action on, you create an environment where innovation thrives. This is the culture hack companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have figured out.

When you look at the Amazons of the world, they actively encourage their employees to test, fail, and learn. This is what gives employees a sense of duty and encourages an innovative mindset in the workplace. They know they can challenge the status quo, and that any one of their ideas can be the company’s next breakthrough.

Take Facebook for example. The company is known for their employee-only hackathons, which they run frequently throughout the year. Many of the products you see today on the platform, such as Boomerang and Safety Check, came directly from those events.

These hackathons provide an opportunity for employees to flex their creativity and tackle any project they want. The final products are then presented to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and often implemented, tested, and refined. This is employee ideation at its finest.

Employee ideation, whether it’s through hackathons or some other medium, is why companies like Facebook consistently find themselves on the “top innovative companies in the world” lists year after year. They understand the value of enlisting the collective intelligence of every employee and using that energy to dream up new possibilities.

Ideation, and as a byproduct intrapreneurship, is what transforms cultures into hubs of innovation. This is what Commonwealth Bank has tapped into with their CommBank Intrapreneur program.

Case in point: in just 10 working days this year, employees have submitted over 600 diverse ideas ranging from artificial intelligence and bitcoin to social impact and virtual reality.

As Bianco goes on to explain in the Commonwealth Bank blog post: “The program generated engagement and excitement from all parts of our business. We had ideas from branches in Wagga Wagga to overseas teams in New York City. It was pleasing to see the diversity of ideas yet the consistent focus on better outcomes for our customers.”

Final thoughts

Commonwealth Bank has reached a level of employee engagement companies who seek to create a culture of innovation aspire to. And they did it through company-wide ideation.

They knocked down silos leading to cross-department collaboration. They invested in technology enabling consistent engagement. And now, they join a growing list of companies who are leveraging their employees to accomplish objectives like dream up new products and business models, improve customer experience, and future-proof their business.

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