Why We Should Encourage a Pioneering Spirit in the Workplace

By Michelle Senecal de Fonseca

Change can happen at any level. While historically, innovation would have filtered from the top down, today (and within the IT sector particularly), the organizations that are leading the way and breaking new ground are those that are championing innovation internally and encouraging employees to experiment, irrespective of their rank or job title.

The IT sector alone is evolving at an accelerated rate, and we are quickly finding that what has worked in the past may start to become less effective and helpful in getting us where we need to be. Scientist Ray Kurzweil coined the term the Law of Accelerating Returns which refers to the fact that technology progress, up until now, has doubled every decade. However, we are reaching the point where acceleration could become exponential. If Kurzweil’s law holds true we are looking at 200 centuries of progress within this century alone and while as humans we can adapt to such change, we usually do so in a linear fashion. With exponential growth like this, it will become critical that we move away from straight line approaches and experiment with new ways of doing things.

At Citrix, I’m responsible for the Northern Europe region, which consists primarily of Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and the UK. The technology landscape in this region is a unique and fascinating environment to work in, because in many ways it is pushing boundaries forward for the rest of the world. The total population of the Nordic countries, for example, is only 3% of Europe’s population, but between 2005-2015 the countries received 16% of tech venture capital, spawned 50% of billion-dollar exits and 24% of Deloitte’s Europe Fast-500 companies. To add to this, the UK is dominating Europe’s fintech scene, boasting more billion-dollar fintech companies (“unicorns”) than the rest of the continent combined. London’s tech sector attracted more investment than any other European city in 2017, amounting to a total of £2.99bn; almost double the amount invested in 2016 (£1.63bn). And Ireland is also attracting global investment, with nine of the top 10 global software companies being located there, and nine of the top 10 US technology companies.

Tech businesses across the region have been early adopters of cloud technologies, breaking new ground and trying new things. Because home markets are not large, especially in the Nordic markets, they are trying to build scalable, global business, and in doing so are pulling the market around them to help them move faster. This all represents a massive opportunity, but to truly take advantage of it, we need to make sure we are moving with it, thinking of new ways to win and writing our own pioneering rules.

No one is going to know more about what’s happening at a grassroots level than those who are on the front lines, interacting with clients daily. Often, it’s these individuals who are best placed to suggest where change needs to happen, and we need to be careful to grant them that freedom and opportunity to experiment, take risks, and problem solve. A great place to start is by offering these people a direct line to those of us in leadership, so that their ideas can be heard and properly considered.

A new Citrix-commissioned report, published by Lancaster University and The Work Foundation, Productivity, technology & working anywhere exposed a direct correlation between companies that champion innovation and entrepreneurship, and companies that are more productive. It claimed outstanding leaders are those that empower employees to create something new. The report says, “Organizational productivity could be enhanced by explicitly acknowledging that some individuals are more comfortable with experimenting, not least because they have access to and deploy different types of technology in their wider lives. Supporting the staff with these skills, giving them room to make mistakes, will allow them to trial new approaches in practice.”

Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, offers an example of an aerial trapeze artist, and says that if you provide a net, your performer will attempt new, ever more challenging feats. To foster an entrepreneurial spirit in the workplace, you need to ensure a similar net is in place.

It stands to reason that the pioneers among us will be out of step at times with the rest of the organization, and of course there will be some pushback from those who are more set in their ways. And while it can be nerve-wracking to be the first to break new ground and test a completely new way of doing something, this is the only way in which progress can truly happen, and something which my Northern European team is becoming increasingly comfortable with (in the face of discomfort!). Those who push themselves to think of new approaches will accomplish things they never thought possible, create something they can be proud of, and make an inspiring difference within the organization and in their personal lives too.

Michelle is Area Vice President, Northern Europe at Citrix.

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