How can companies maintain an innovative culture during a crisis?

5 May 2020

Tony Sheridan. Image: Fidelity Investments

With his entire team working remotely, Fidelity Investments’ Tony Sheridan discusses the importance of continuing innovation during Covid-19.

Having worked in start-ups, multinationals and in the public sector across several industries including education, IT, telecoms and financial services, Tony Sheridan brings more than 30 years’ experience to his role as vice-president of technology at Fidelity Investments.

Sheridan currently manages a team of more than 150 technologists who work across architecture, software development, quality engineering, automation and analysis. “We have seen a remarkable shift in the way that we are conducting business since the Covid-19 outbreak,” he said.

“To protect our employees and help avoid the spread of the virus, we have rapidly scaled our work from home capabilities, with 100pc of my team now working remotely.”

‘Throughout history, necessity has always driven invention’

However, it’s not just day-to-day business that has been impacted by Covid-19. With so much disruption, it can be hard to see how innovation within companies won’t end up on the back burner. However, Sheridan said he believes innovation will actually be impacted in a positive way.

“Throughout history, necessity has always driven invention. The SARS outbreak in 2002 was the catalyst for digital e-commerce companies to flourish in China. As we journey through this crisis, businesses will adapt to working remotely, keeping socially distant but remaining connected – this will drive new thinking, thought leadership and innovation.”

Sheridan added that creating a company culture that encourages and nurtures innovation is one of the most important things leaders should focus on.

“A culture of innovation is important in any industry and for any organisation. Not just to stay abreast of changing customer needs but to anticipate them. Not only to position an organisation competitively but to become a market, thought or industry leader. Not only to encourage employees to form and develop ideas, but to enable them to bring those ideas to life and enjoy the great satisfaction that comes with that.”

Leaders need to have risk tolerance

He said that in times of crisis, in particular, leaders need to prioritise what is important to them and their business and be clear in their intent and direction, so employees can understand and focus on these areas.

“For building an innovation culture, more than ever, leaders need to encourage employees to ideate, to help meet company priorities and be very conscious in creating time and space for implementation of their ideas.”

Sheridan said leaders also need to have risk tolerance to build this innovative culture. “To encourage and drive creativity, you need to be open to taking acceptable risk for your organisation. If something is not working, learn from this and move on. It is important that leadership creates an environment where they and their employees do not fear failure.

“Creating and sustaining an innovation culture needs deliberate action and takes time and effort. It is not about a one-off innovation day or event, it has to embedded into the organisation’s fibre,” he added.

“Creating a trusted environment is a key enabler for employees to foster curiosity, to be courageous and to collaborate with each other. Reaching and sustaining that level of an innovation culture across the organisation is fundamental.”

Even under current challenging circumstances, Sheridan said that organisations and leaders need to make sure their employees feel comfortable thinking outside the box and ensure they’re not held back by the notion of ‘that’s not how we do things here’.

“That’s why organisations with strong diversity and an inclusive culture are much more likely to succeed with growing their innovation culture.”

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic