I recently spoke to 40 Chinese CEOs and Chairmen who were attending an executive program designed by Prof. John Chen, Babson College, VP of Asia Program. My talk was centered on providing these executives practical tips on how to develop a culture of innovation and separately, how to implement a successful transformation program within their companies. Here are my observations:
- Commitment to Learning – Most of the executives in the group were either CEOs or Chairmen, as opposed to EVPs or SVPs, so the fact that they took 10 days out of their schedules to personally attend such a program clearly demonstrates the importance that they place on innovation and growth. Pretty cool!
- Attitude – Despite the business success that most of these executives had realized to date, they were very open-minded and humble. This attitude is not always seen, particularly when companies have achieved a great deal of success.
- Seeking Growth – The common theme seemed to be relative to growth. Many of these companies had achieved a fair degree of success throughout the last years or decades, and they were now experiencing a combination of greater competition, local market saturation and increased labor costs. Therefore, they peppered me with several questions, seeking practical answers and tips relative to the following:
- How do they cultivate a culture of innovation in which employees are motivated to think creatively and unconventionally?
- How to develop a multi-year growth strategy– Who should be in charge of it and what measures can be implemented to ensure that it is accurate and successfully executed?
- How do they implement transformation initiatives and programs, when the greatest inhibitors could very likely be their own leaders and employees?
As for Prof. Chen’s executive program, it is quite unique. It is case-study based and delivered by multiple universities. The executives learn about various topics by studying case studies at Babson, Harvard Business School, and West Point. The theory is supplemented by on-site visits to various companies, like EMC, Google, Intel and many up-and-coming startups.