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Dell survey reveals key to accelerate in uncertainty

A new study among 6,000 employees in 45 countries provides a roadmap for becoming an innovation leader, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

South African businesses are remarkably resilient. They may be straining under economic challenges created by government incompetence, but most tend to find ways to navigate the nonsense and survive the stupidity. 

And then there are those that not only survive, but thrive. How is that possible in such circumstances?

Every business would have its own secrets of success, but there is a common denominator.

The latest edition of the The Dell Technologies Innovation Index, released this week, reveals that innovation is the key not only to overcoming uncertainty, but also to accelerating business performance in hard times.

The study surveyed 6,600 employees across 45 countries, including South Africa. While it showed that this country is far behind the rest of the world in companies reporting a vibrant culture of innovation, it wasn’t entirely bad news. 

While 84% of respondents globally reported such a culture, “only” 68% of South African respondents slotted into this category. That is still more than two thirds, suggesting a potentially powerful role played in this country by business innovation.

More than half (53%) of South Africans said that aspects of their company’s culture held them back individually from being as innovative as they wanted to be. If that sounds rough, it’s better than the global average: 64%.

However, the research shows a clear “innovation gap” between perception and realisation, worldwide. Here, South Africa punched above its weight, suggesting a greater sense of realism among long-suffering employees. It us also here that the legendary “can-do” spirit of the country comes into play.

Doug Woolley, general manager of Dell Technologies South Africa.

Dell placed respondents on an innovation maturity benchmark scale, ranging from Innovation Leaders to Innovation Laggards. It showed that, despite a positive view of innovative business cultures, only 18% of companies worldwide can be defined as Innovation Leaders and Adopters. In South Africa, that rose to 26%.

The significance of this, according to the study, is that  Innovation Leaders and Adopters are 2.2 times more likely to accelerate their innovation during a recession than Innovation Followers and Laggards. The Innovation Index does offer hope: it provides a framework to help organisations improve by priming their people, processes and technology for innovation.

The study concludes that organisations need help to develop an innovation culture where all ideas can make a difference and learning through failure is encouraged. It says businesses recognise this and are confident in their ability to deliver: 89% of South Africans, compared to 78% globally, believe that people join their company partly because they believe they’ll be empowered to innovate.

This is where the innovation gap upends business ambitions.

Half of South African respondents also believe people leave their company because they haven’t been able to innovate as much as they hoped they would.

As a result, businesses should look at how they can improve their processes around innovation. The prime barrier to innovation for respondents’ teams, Dell found, is a lack of time to innovate, which underscores the importance of senior leaders modelling prioritisation. Presently, 73% of South African respondents (68% globally) say their leaders are more focused on the day-to-day running of the business than on innovation. Without true, visible commitment at a leadership level, ambitious, skilled individuals can’t achieve their full potential on innovation. The knock-on effect is reduced business impact. 

“There’s a powerful equation in business: innovative ideas plus technology equal impact,” says Doug Woolley, general manager of Dell Technologies South Africa. “But there are several dependencies that are catching out organisations. They often think it’s to do with the idea. They’re waiting for the next big disruptive lightbulb moment. 

“But small, practical ideas can create a ripple effect that leads to greater productivity, profitability and purpose. What they can’t avoid are the right processes and technology. Value only comes when you have all three.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee.

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