Embedding a Culture of Innovation and Continuous Improvement

"The only way to [drive continuous improvement] is by driving the capabilities and awareness among the people closest to the customer because they likely have the best insight into what they need and what to do about it. "

How Has Emerging Technology Created A New Set of Innovation Opportunities for Business Leaders?

I think, in general, the idea of innovation has to be expanded, where typically, innovation is was seen to be limited to a few people in a department who knew about emerging technologies. Yet, with the spread of social media and dissemination of knowledge on what exists in terms of AI, innovation really has to be approachable by frontline folks as well. Emerging technologies in various industries are not just the domain of a few smart people in organizations that are into technology, but, the average employee or the frontline person can be exposed to these emerging technologies, and they should have the opportunity to identify ideas of where this emerging technology can be applied.


In the military, they use infrared scanning to figure out what size of clothing to give, to give their people. They don’t need to measure them and put them on a weight scale and get a tape measure and measure the arms, they just scan them – which takes two seconds – and they know exactly what size of apparel they need to make.

But, with babies in hospitals, we still stretch them out, and the nurse has to measure them with a tape measure. This isn’t fun for the baby or the or the mother with a baby. So, one of the frontline employees in the hospital decided to take the idea from the military and apply it to a child. So, rather than having to stretch a child on a scale, you could just take an image of them using this infrared technology and find out what size they are, how they’re growing and if they’re a healthy weight, etc.

Above is an example of the kind of innovation that people on the frontline can come up with. And the leadership’s role is now to foster that idea and provide the resources, technology or access to technology and teams to try out new ideas. Whether that’s putting together a legal team, a tech transfer team, or an IT team, the role of leadership is really to help people with the ideas connect with those who can bring those ideas to life.

Leadership is not often positioned to come up with the best ideas, frankly because they’re too far detached from the frontline work.  They instead need to play a role in developing the platforms for Innovation and working to get data more accessible and usable by the front-line. 


How Do You Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement and Innovation When Both Hiring New Talent and Developing Existing Teams? 

The main one is diversity in hiring – both cultural and psychological diversity

When building a team, and hiring from outside, you need to be aware of the mindset that the person is bringing with them. What do they think it means to improve? What does it mean to innovate? Typically, innovation is associated with being willing to try something as a calculated risk. Is someone 100% tied to the boundaries given or is there any evidence of them trying something new? Can they look beyond their industry or their department and find something from another area and adapt to their needs?

The people who innovate often bring ideas from a different industry, environment, culture or setting into their current area which is why it’s important to hire people who have evidence of having done or tried something new. Therefore, I really believe in diversity, and inclusivity in our hiring, because you will get much greater innovation, much greater diversity of thought, and better ideas on how to solve problems creatively.


What Are Some Pitfalls or Cautions for Leaders?

The main caution   would be when leaders fall in love with their own ideas. 

If you are a leader, and you have a great innovation or innovative idea, you obviously have the leverage to implement that idea and influence the organization to implement that idea. But too often, great leaders and very visionary leaders, fall too in love with their specific idea. And if they’re not willing to pivot on that idea or learn and test that idea and see if it works, and make adjustments accordingly, it can damage their credibility or lead to the idea failing.

So, to combat this, leaders must be flexible, willing to learn and willing to pivot as they test ideas out.


How do you Ground People of Various Skill Sets in Accountability for the Organization’s Objectives, Key Focus Areas, Core Capabilities, and Commitments to Stakeholders?

This is a complex process where 3 things are most important in gaining enrolment and commitment:

  1. Clarity around what the organization’s objectives are.
  2. Effective communication of the objectives.
  3. A system or process for people to measure themselves against those goals and objectives in an effective way.

In any large organization, you cannot force people to just step into line and take accountability for objectives and commit to achieving them. The way you do that is through negotiation with the senior executive team. Their primary job is to make sure that their goals are very clear and well-articulated. Their second job is to negotiate with their next level down on what that means for them. Negotiation is not a one-way or a one-day conversation. It could take days or weeks of reflection before goals and objectives are determined.

That amount of time allows for the actual leader of that functional department really reflect on the directive deeply. Secondly, it increases buy-in because they own the outcomes. Now, they have the authority, and the empowerment to think about how their function rolls into the organization’s objectives. While an executive leader could likely come up with solutions themselves, allowing somebody else to think about their function, and actually come up with a way to link it with their objectives creates buy-in faster and that individual can now do the same for their sub-departments or subgroups.

That process of negotiation obviously has to be done in a structured way. It involves people buying into their stake, and feeling accountable for achieving an outcome that the organization has defined. Leaders have the responsibility of giving them access to as much data as possible to make those decisions and to give them support. Whether it’s capability building or making sure that we’re setting up a structure for them to report, leaders need to put in the systems to support the frontline coming to their own solutions vs driving them from the top-down.

Once that structure is set, every unit will have a set of goals, and measurable objectives, and they’ll know what their gaps are, whether they need to build their skills up to achieve them; or they need more project leadership or if they need better data.

It comes down to how these sessions are structured and what role leadership plays in them. Are we ascribing to the principle that leadership knows best, and they’re going to tell you what to do? And then audit you and then punish you if you don’t meet that audit? Or do you believe leadership’s role is to set direction, and then coach, and then make sure that to give them the support needed to achieve their goal? The latter requires a whole set of capabilities among leadership, that is, frankly not easy to develop. But those are the two leadership capabilities. If there is more buy-in there will be less need to audit and punish.


What Opportunities Lie for Organizations That Foster Innovation and Continuous Growth?

For organizations to foster innovation and continuous growth, they must be very clear on what methodology they want to impart upon people. It does not matter what it is, but it needs to be simple and approachable. This way, everybody in the organization can feel they have some stake in the improvement and some stake in looking at an idea for innovation. If improvement opportunities are too inaccessible, have too many buzzwords, are too academic, or are only accessible to people who are higher up the food chain, this will not create a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. The only way to do it is by driving the capabilities and awareness among the people closest to the customer because they likely have the best insight into what they need and what to do about it.

99% of the time, employees have the ideas but don’t have the capability, the time, or the tools. So if leaders can connect those dots and provide their employees with those three things, and give them a structure in which to come up with their ideas, and test out their ideas, and potentially fund ideas, that’s the secret sauce to driving innovation in an organization.

Overall, it’s about getting employees to think about how to solve a problem in a very approachable way. When you use a PDSA (Plan, do, study, adjust), or any of those tools, the reason they work is that they’re meant for the person at the front line who’s too busy dealing with their day job to go through a whole detailed project plan. They have to be able to figure out a solution and be able to test it out and learn from it with some basic data gathering.

Leaders too often are taught that their job is to solve problems, but it’s not. A leader’s job is to facilitate problem-solving among others and creating an environment in which they can try solving more of their own problems. That way, a leader multiplies themselves by 20 as opposed to being the one person, the one choke point trying to do it all.

Get to Know Shiraz Bajwa

Tell me a little about your career path. What made you get into consulting? (Life experiences, skillset, a mentor etc.)

“My career path started 20 years ago, where, right off the bat, my first role was in a graduate development program at a large manufacturing facility on Bombardier aerospace. I was one of the few people who were selected to be a change agent for a large transformation they were going through. While popular today, 20 years ago, Six Sigma was newer to the manufacturing industry and it implied a lot of changes not just in quality, but also in people’s behaviours, leadership qualities, and capacity building, like getting people in the organization really involved in solving problems. What really appealed to me in that experience was how much exposure it gave me to various parts of the business. I worked across all departments. We had to connect with people who are firefighting in their day jobs, and maybe they believe they’re doing everything to the best of their ability. But there could be a way to do things better. So we needed to figure out how do you enroll people to solve problems in a more scientific way?

“Introducing scientific thinking in everyday business was what really got me hooked on this line of work. Since then, I’ve led internal improvement teams that were essentially internal improvement consultants, often to large organizations. I pivoted into healthcare about 10 years ago because I believe, it was the industry most lagging in terms of adopting scientific thinking in business settings with the biggest opportunity for change. (For example, if we go through the rate of spending that we are in Ontario, in health care, within 20 years, we’ll be spending over 80% of our budget on health, which is obviously impossible and not sustainable. So, how do you get more value out of your processes?)

“So even within the past 10 years, I’ve been working in internal consulting teams, setting up departments, identifying priorities with executives, and helping them implement those priorities by finding out what gaps to fill and how. That’s what led me to consulting. My last role was very much involved in starting up a Hospital in Qatar. And after that role, I felt it was good to come back into consulting and to get more in touch with the latest and greatest across a variety of industries.”

What is something you are passionate about outside of your job role?

“I have two things that I really enjoy. Aside from hanging out with family, I love the outdoors. I love mountain biking. And I like to find any place that has a gradient slope of any kind, and any kind of rough terrain. I also enjoy motorcycle touring. I did have a motorcycle, which I sold. And I’m going to look at getting a new one this hopefully this summer.”

What initially drew you to TPG?

“I’ve known David for over 10 years in various capacities. I think I was at a stage in my career where I wanted to work for a firm that was smaller and more focused on strategy and improvement to give me a chance to do a broader array of work across various industries. TPG has a good name and they had a good name 10 years ago when they were a lot smaller. I felt it was a good fit for me to be part of something smaller, more boutique, something more personal. And, again, the thing that I think I’m good at, and what matches TPG’s values is partnering with their client all the way through to execution, not just giving them recommendations and moving on. That was something that really appealed to me as part of my interest in coming to TPG.