Innovation: the word evokes human emotions like creative thinking, excitement, nostalgia, and dreaming. Innovation is key to economic, business and personal success, by most measures. Business leaders strive to create and continuously build a culture with an innovation component. The beauty of innovative cultures is similar to art – it is relevant if it is relative.
One year ago while flying across the country, the notion of facilitating innovation in my workplace was an intriguing concept and putting pen to paper, literally, led to the conceptualization of Innovate: Norfolk. Establishing relevant innovation in our accounting firm’s office in Norfolk, Virginia was a challenge, and I was determined to try to lead some positive change. With five objectives of creativity, community, camaraderie, enthusiasm and innovative thought, the initiative took shape.
We have an office of over 100 accounting professionals – providing audit, tax and advisory services across many industries. Our professionals range in age from 22 to 65, thus the multi-generational relevance was paramount. Accountants work well with deadlines, expectations, schedules, and most anything measurable. Removing the comfortable norms from the concept was step one. Next was removing barriers of job titles and substituting pens and paper for crayons, chalk and dry erase boards. Our market leader liked the idea and ability to move forward without much structure.
For our first session, a weekday lunch, we had over 40 attendees. We sat in random groups and spent an hour discussing the “why” behind consumer behaviors with respect to our favorite brands, places or products. Each group used a mini-chalkboard to sketch their conclusions, similar to show-and-tell from elementary school, chalk included. Enthusiasm spread after the session and the pressure was on to continue creating experiences people looked forward to and participated in. Thankfully, a diverse network of influencers continues to provide me with valuable feedback, ideas and inspiration.
Eight sessions later, we’ve told stories about action figures, performed improv, shared personal experiences and laughed, a lot. One of the most talked about sessions took place in an empty building from the 1940’s; a blank canvas with history and eclecticism, within walking distance of our office. We split up into teams of five and had one hour to conceptualize and design a business to open in the space. Our teams quickly found out how difficult it is to start a business, even with a building hand-picked for the location. This was impactful because we make a living advising businesses, and having a perspective and appreciation for the challenges entrepreneurs and executives face every day makes us better advisors.
As our initiative evolved, integrating local entrepreneurs to share their stories with our team provided direct insight and perspective, while connecting our internal office culture with external stakeholders thus forming valuable connections. Great friends volunteered to share their business-building experiences, challenges and advice with us and we included other community activists to listen in.
As professional advisors, our individual experiences working with clients mold our approach to service, providing the insights needed to deliver value. The challenge and main value driver is frequent adaptation through critical listening and curiously learning while facilitating collaboration to share knowledge.
In the 2016 economy, with the vast number of baby boomers approaching retirement and millennials entering management and leadership roles, the symbiotic relationship between the generations grows stronger. Pursuing effective innovative culture development is a valuable tool. Using this tool effectively can build enterprise value, improve relationships, facilitate learning and perhaps most impactful from a long-term perspective, transfer knowledge and experience between the value creators in our business – the people.
Bryan works with closely held businesses in the manufacturing, government contracting, craft beer and technology industries. A leading business developer in DHG’s Mid-Atlantic region, Bryan is focused on community and team building, both internally and externally, in an effort to provide timely, relevant advice and resources to clients and colleagues.