Club for Excellence in Management: What is the Essence of Innovation?

For the fifth year running, Barcelona has been chosen to host the 5 th Business Meeting “Reencontrar la esencia para innovar” (Rediscovering the Essence of Innovation), organised by the Club for Excellence in Management (CEG), sponsored by AENOR, Asenta , Banc Sabadell and Konsac Group and in collaboration with ACC1Ó, Casa Àsia , the Catalan Engineer's Association, the Barcelona School of Management - Pompeu Fabra University, PIMEC and Plataforma Editorial.

The Club for Excellence in Management held the Business Meeting “Reencontrar la esencia para innovar” (Rediscovering the Essence of Innovation). The meeting provided an in-depth analysis of the elements and tools that are essential for successfully facing the future , focusing on innovation as a strategic and systemic process that necessitates the involvement of all those concerned.

After the opening formalities, presided by Mr Miquel Montes, CEO of CEG for Catalonia, the Honourable Mr Hidehiro Tsubaki, Consul General for Japan in Barcelona, and Mr Jaume Casals, Executive Vice-President of IDEC-Pompeu Fabra University , came the presentation Innovación sistémica e integradora como reto para la competitividad” (Systemic and Integrated Innovation as a Competitive Challenge) given by Mr Xavier Ferràs, Director of the Center for Business Innovation at ACC1Ó — the agency for the competitiveness of Catalan companies of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia's Department of Enterprise and Work — an expert in innovation who identified the challenges arising from our environment, how innovation can help to respond to them, and the key factors to bear in mind when developing the capacity for innovation of organisations and each and every one of the professionals of which they are composed.

During his presentation, Ferràs mentioned that “ innovation is the answer to the dramatic challenges arising from our environment” . He also highlighted that “in order to compete successfully, we must innovate more, better and more quickly than our competitors.” He added that “Innovation becomes a complex cultural phenomenon that involves our personal values: responsibility, initiative and taking on risks. The countries that do well in the future will be culturally enterprising and innovative, and those that aren't will be permanently left behind.”

With regards to the key factors for successfully developing the innovation of companies and their people, he said that “innovation is a process of constant learning and interaction between the organisation and the market”, but that “good practice advises us that organisations should have a fluid, non-vertical design, that and that they should be in close contact with their environment.” He also added that it is necessary to “choose the best for the task of innovation.”

Next, the audience was given the opportunity to listen to Ms Catherine Chan, President of the Hong Kong QFD Institute and one of the people to have trained most closely with Professor Yoji Akao, founder of the QFD method — the most effective for guaranteeing design quality — on which she gave a brief presentation.

After this brief explanation, Mr Antoni Cañete, Secretary General of PIMEC, had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Yoji Akao, the creator of QFD , who is currently on his first visit to Spain. During the interview the Professor spoke about the origins of the QFD method, which allows clients' needs to be transformed into product specifications, to be prioritised and given innovative solutions, and improves processes to maximum effectiveness. He also spoke about the pillars of Japanese culture, firmly grounded in tradition and the values of respect, effort, commitment, and concern for one's surroundings, and which can lead to greater technological progress and innovation in many other settings. As he said during the interview “In Japan, there is a strong sense of making a contribution to companies and organisations. Working together to achieve goals. People are diligent and hard working and they feel proud when they reach their goals. This creates a positive cycle which allows us to move forward and improve our lives. This is one of the values of Japanese culture that I believe would be of help to Western culture.”

In the words of Akao: “The main contribution of QFD is the logic and the system that it provides for transforming clients' needs into product or service specifications.” Giving the explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011 as an example, he also mentioned that “one of the bases and main contributions of QFD is being able to visualise the general outlook in order to grasp the critical aspects needed to build quality .”

Taking the opportunity provided by this important event , he emphasised once again the importance of “identifying and understanding the worlds' latent needs” . He believes that “innovation requires a thorough knowledge of the needs of clients and groups of interest, a detailed exploration of technology, synergy between numerous different perspectives and the incorporation of new ideas.”

After the coffee break, there was a debating table session: “Factores esenciales para una innovación efectiva” (Essential Factors for Effective Innovation) chaired by Mr Oriol Amat, Professor of Financial Economics at Pompeu Fabra University and Board Member of CNMV, with the participation of important managers such as Mr Antoni Casagran, General Manager of Hospital Universitario Mútua Terrassa, Mr Fabián Martín, Chef and Owner of Restaurantes Fabián Martín, Mr Pedro Navarrete, Senior Vice-President of SONY Europe, and Mr Pere Merino, Executive Vice-President of Grupo TELSTAR and President of CETEMMSA .

The debate analysed the essential pillars of management that make innovation possible. Everyone agreed that innovation is the key for successfully facing an ever more complex and unstable environment . Innovation must be dealt with systemically, integrating different players and disciplines, and must be expressed as a vital attitude. It is necessary to develop organisations' abilities to innovate, and therefore to think about and reinforce the essential pillars of management that support this ability.

They also stressed that innovation cannot be a sporadic initiative, nor can it be concentrated in a small group of people, rather it must be a continuous, collective effort — an open innovation approach. There is no doubt that the current highly unstable and complex environment, which is predicted to continue in the future, means that the ability of professionals and organisations to innovate must be developed to the maximum, not solely for competitiveness, but as a mere measure for survival.

After this debate, in the practical presentation “Innovación en la relación con los clientes a través de las redes sociales”(Innovation in Client Relations through Social Networks) , Mr Miquel Montes, Deputy General Manager of Banco Sabadell, explained how the technology of social networks provides a solid client-based approach that allows for innovation in product design and in client relations.

In the words of Montes: “To encourage an innovative attitude within an organisation it's necessary to create a climate of transparency and trust that allows people to participate. Employees need to feel valued and genuinely motivated.” Furthermore, he added that “organisations must emplace the measures needed to channel employees' contributions and encourage productive innovation. Social networks offer us many opportunities in this sense, as they eliminate the distances between departments, clients, etc. Over the last year in Banco Sabadell, we have received more than 3,000 ideas from clients and employees. The highly valuable ideas are implemented and officially acknowledged by the organisation, with more than 100 awards being given in 2010.”

With regards client relations, he stated that “As we strive to innovate we develop more abilities that bring us closer to clients and allow us to better understand them”.

To conclude the meeting, Mr Cèsar Molins, CEO of Grupo AMES, gave a presentation entitled “Valores esenciales para un ecosistema innovador” (Essential Values for an Innovative Ecosystem) in which he analysed which cultural elements — i.e. groups of behaviours and beliefs that guide individual and collective attitudes — are necessary for sustainable innovation.

In his own words “There's a technique and an art to innovation. It requires a favourable environment” before adding, also on a cultural note, “innovation cannot be implanted by decree, nor can it be rushed.”

For sustainable innovation, he stated that: “ethics, trust and transparency tend to favour innovation” and that the key factors for successfully developing innovation are “training, multidirectional communication within the company, an environment that's open to change, acceptance that mistakes may be made, a serious and constant commitment on the part of all levels of management, a team spirit and feeling of dedication on the part of the employees — for which real and clearly expressed transparency and ethics are essential — a reasonable policy of recognition, decentralised innovation and a rooted culture of innovation as an integral part of the day-to-day work of everybody in the company.”

As in previous years, it was a practical meeting with useful proposals and experiences for successfully facing the sustainable innovation required of an environment in constant change; an environment that is unstable, turbulent and highly complex .

About the CEG

The Club for Excellence in Management (El Club Excelencia en Gestión — CEG), a non-profit organisation created in 1991 by the leading Spanish organisations in Excellence in Management, is a Primary Partner of the EFQM in Spain. It has more than 300 member organisations of all sizes and from all sectors and areas of Spain.

After 20 years of commitment to Excellence, the CEG is the official representative of the EFQM in Spain (NPO, National Partner Organization). In those countries where the figure of Primary Partner exists, and for those organisations that so request, the CEG is responsible for facilitating the power to act as “Distributors”.

Their mission is to enhance the competitiveness of organisations and professionals, identifying new channels, developing skills, sharing knowledge and promoting management models. CEG member companies currently constitute 40% of those included in the IBEX and 36% of Spain's GDP.