Creating an Outbreak of Innovation in a Pandemic

COVID-19 is breaking traditional ways of thinking about work, productivity and people management. We believe this disruptive time will give people the courage to step outside the boundaries of the typical workplace and into a New Future.

What better time than now to unleash the potential of people working from home and put a dent in the status quo? Everyone in the workplace now understands that things must change, but this requires innovation, and innovation relies on an intellectual framework to encourage – even require – people to engage in questioning, observing, networking, experimenting and associating in new ways.

Like many other firms, ISG is creating the New Future in the way we work with our clients. Over the last several weeks, we have learned meaningful lessons in how to generate value using remote teams from multiple companies in collaborative meetings. With the opportunity for positive change looming, we are seeing a surprisingly enthusiastic and creative response to design thinking principles.

As you lead your organization through the next few months, consider these ways to spur innovation in delivering new products and improving operations for existing services, all while working in a remote, globally distributed environment:

  1. Apply design thinking. Engage employees in design-thinking workshops that encourage questioning across a broad spectrum of functional areas. Suspend organizational hierarchy to get at the widest possible spectrum of ideas. The methodology of design thinking is widely published, and it can be applied effectively in part or as a whole program to structure such meetings. Bring together engineers, designers, accountants and other operational experts from all organizational levels to consider topics like how to prepare for the future of work, how to evolve your customer service or how to improve your working relationship with your suppliers and service providers. Capture their thinking and provide them with sponsors to promote their ideas to the top of the organization. Demonstrate as a leader that their contributions are sought after and taken seriously. Then execute the most innovative ideas and enjoy the benefits!


  2. Develop a virtual lab for experimentation. Create a forum for testing ways to positively impact the remote employee working experience. Then challenge employees to translate these concepts into the end-customer experience. Encourage them to set their own schedules in the midst of homeschooling children and attending to the needs of elderly family members, and trust that they will meet their commitments. When people are enabled and given autonomy, they can produce surprisingly high-quality work that can make a material difference for an organization.


  3. Create diverse networks. Find ways to connect a diverse network of individuals who vary significantly in their backgrounds and perspectives but who share common threads of experience and knowledge that will elicit new and productive insights, and encourage them to explore ideas together. Create several of these diverse networks (using a combination of virtual meetings and Yammer-type applications). Bring them together to share their views of how things should operate. Glean from this exercise a few challenging pilot projects and put them into action.

These activities will increase your organization’s ability to discover and innovate – and discovery skills are truly needed at this disruptive juncture. Innovative thinking often gets worn down by the traditional focus on delivery. Now, during this disruption of business as usual, we need to rediscover and reinvigorate the entrepreneurial roots that made our corporations great long before there was a global pandemic.

While we have always incorporated design thinking frameworks into our methodologies, we have been surprised by our compelling learnings on how to collaborate remotely with large and diverse teams over the past several weeks. We would like to help you get a jumpstart on the practical conduct of design thinking workshops as you seek to optimize the creativity of your organization’s remote workforce. Please join us for a webinar and discover the potential for innovation in these disruptive times.

We can help your organization adapt and thrive in the new future, from finding immediate cost savings to implementing the kind of change that will enable your teams. Contact us for more information.

About the authors

Craig Nelson is a Partner in ISG’s OCM practice.  He is responsible for ensuring ISG’s clients achieve the operating results envisioned by ensuring that organizational risks and barriers are addressed and mitigated.   Mr. Nelson is thought leader in OCM, business process optimization, design thinking, IT sourcing OCM and is recognized among his peers for his contributions to assisting organizations who are embracing digital transformation, automation, and cultural change. 

Craig is a process design expert having earned his Six Sigma Black Belt designation and has completed 100s of OCM engagements with organizations across every industry vertical ranging in size form start-ups to Fortune 100 and 500 companies.   His unique blend of process reengineering, automation, and operational redesign, combined with his leadership experience make him a rare and sought-after resource for organizations seeking to realize the benefits of their change initiatives.

Cynthia brings 25 years of experience helping clients develop their sourcing governance and service management design. Having worked with more than 50 organizations to improve business management and service management processes in both single-provider and multi-provider environments, Cynthia has become a recognized expert in sourcing governance, vendor and contract management. She currently serves as the architect for ISG’s service methodology and global integrator of its products and services. Cynthia works to leverage ISG’s accumulated intellectual property resources to help enterprises create effective transformation and governance capability, and maintains a continuing role in the Strategy and Organizational Change Enablement practice.