RBC innovation head talks job interviews, social media

To achieve innovation in IT service delivery, every employee from theground up needs to be debating the issue as opposed to an individual group ofsenior executives, said Avi Pollock, head of the innovation and strategicplanning unit at Royal Bank of Canada Financial Group.

Speaking at Monday’s Lac Carling 2011 conference in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.,RBC’s innovation guru said the easiest way to create a culture of innovation isto hire the right people from the start.

“The number one thing I look for is intellectual curiosity,” he said.

When conducting a job interview, Pollock said the only question that matters tohim is what the job seeker would do to add value to the company if they weren’tgiven any work on their first day at the office.

“I don’t care what the answer is,” Pollock said. “I just care that they have ananswer. If they can’t they’ll struggle to add innovation to their role.”


Employees that have a low desire for personal glory, but a big willingness tochallenge, disagree and argue about ideas is also an asset. “If someone’slooking to get their name stamped on (an idea), then we’re in trouble,” headded.

To tie in with this strategy, RBC is embracing social media and collaborationtools throughout its business.

“A lot of time is dedicated to people scanning information,” Pollock said. “Thatdoesn’t create value for others.”

If an employee reads something interesting and potentially valuable to thebusiness, or if an employee has developed a more efficient process to do theirjob, RBC wants to tag that information and make it available via a wiki site.

“If I want to find someone who knows something in the bank, I search LinkedInbecause they have a more up-to-date skills database than we do internally,”Pollock said. He hopes that will change as the bank continues to captureemployee interactions and roll out collaborative white board tools.

While this can also build up “internal innovation competition,” Pollock advisedorganizations to avoid using an “open suggestion box” approach to seekinnovation ideas and instead run focused idea campaigns.

“’Here’s the problem that the business cares about’ and we run it out to acommunity of people,” he said.

Another key part of the bank’s innovation philosophy is ensuring that yourorganization is not blindsided by upstart competitors. In the banking world, hepointed to PayPal.

“If we’re not watching those disruptors and looking to respond in an agile wayto what they do, we’re going to end up in deep trouble,” he said, pointing toKodak as an example of a company that has struggled to adapt in thepost-digital camera world.

Pollock also pointed to the “upside down” ketchup bottle as a simple innovationthat has spurred on a positive change.

While the bank’s “innovation council,” which was comprised of senior executivestalking and driving innovation projects, was recently been disbanded, Pollocksaid organizations looking to promote a culture of innovation should considerhaving a group of senior staff members that can sponsor these projects.

“Don’t do the business case at the beginning though,” Pollock warned, addingthat the team should instead be looking for “business hypothesizes.”

Creating an innovation lab where people can visually demonstrate these ideasvia videos or technology prototypes should also be considered a best practice,he said.

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