Innovation is a main driver not only for our future success, but for most other companies, too. Innovation is when ideas develop into profitable business operations and, in doing so, open up new markets.
These can be new products or services, as well as new business models or processes. These innovations often evolve beyond the scope of today’s business areas and they always create more value for our customers.
But how to achieve innovation in a globalized working world with teams spread over many countries, with experts inside and outside the company, with the potential of start-ups and established companies working together? I am convinced this is one of the most critical questions when it comes to shaping modern working environments.
We certainly all agree that innovation can grow much better when there’s creativity, collaboration, inspiration, and freedom. At Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we foster innovation in many ways. The two major areas are “innovation within the existing business” and “innovation beyond the existing business”. While we spend around 2 bn EUR per year on research and development, e.g. to drive our pharma pipeline or to create new liquid crystal technologies, we also put a lot of effort into supporting new ideas that go beyond our existing businesses.
“A modern working environment, flexible forms of organization, and lean processes coupled with curiosity, openness, and courage will facilitate innovations.”
Innovation Center Hubs in Darmstadt and Nairobi
In the context of “modern working environments”, I particularly would like to discuss our Innovation Center.
During a lecture on our business approach in Africa that I gave at Peking University last week, I presented this example to the students there and had very fruitful discussions with them. For them, it was extremely interesting that the second hub of our Innovation Center was opened in Nairobi.
But let me tell the story from the beginning:
Today’s dynamic markets call for courage, agility, and innovation. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is rising to these challenges. Therefore, we have undergone a major transformation – from a mid-sized, Germany-focused company to a real global player. We have modernized our businesses and our internal structures. Against this backdrop, our Innovation Center is the driving force behind innovation and cultural
change within our company. A modern working environment, flexible forms of organization, and lean processes coupled with curiosity, openness, and courage will facilitate innovations and bring them to life, thus making a significant contribution to the sustainable success of the Group.
Attractive infrastructure, professional project work
In order to provide the best possible working environments for the teams, we chose a two-step approach: In 2015, we opened our current Innovation Center which has also served as a kind of pilot (the picture shows the so-called co-creation space). Now, we are building our future Innovation Center which scales up compared to the first one – and we’re using our learnings to optimize the concept. Already today, the Innovation Center offers an attractive infrastructure for professional project work – and this will even become better when our future Innovation Center will be opened early 2018. Then, it will also build the core of our Corporate Headquarters – and demonstrate how important innovation is for us. Its numerous service offerings are designed to give employees and partners fresh impetus and support them as they pursue their ideas. The goal is to increase the competitiveness of the company by recognizing innovative approaches at an early stage and implementing them rigorously with the targeted support of the Innovation Center. So it is a place where highly innovative, talented people will get the unique opportunity to turn their good ideas into something extraordinary.
The Innovation Center stands for openness, collaboration, creativity, and transparency. It is free from the routines of everyday work. The attractive building is designed to inspire visitors and awaken their creativity. Those who come here are open-minded and curious. Those who stay here can demonstrate their courage, their appetite for risk, and their drive for success.
How we boost innovation
But our Innovation Center is by far not only a building. Much more than that, it is a concept of collaboration. It’s based on four pillars:
- Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany Accelerator: We select and support early stage start-ups with programs in Darmstadt and Nairobi. The focus is on projects in the fields of healthcare, life science, performance materials and digital solutions.
- Internal Innovation: The Innovation Center fosters, develops and hosts cross-divisional innovation projects within Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. We aim at motivating employees to work together across all functions and come up with new disruptive ideas outside their normal business.
- Innovation Think Tank: We analyze future trends and technologies in interdisciplinary teams, working with experts, research institutions, companies and customers. Within this pillar, we support, guide and align people keen on promising ideas.
- Innovator Academy: With offline and online trainings focused on innovation the Innovator Academy seeks to enhance both technical and personal skills of the employees and start-ups to develop a community of innovators.
Innovators can apply for moving into the Innovation Center by submitting their ideas. If the application is successful, the project – just like a start-up – will receive support from the Innovation Center for a specific period of time. Within the flexible start-up structure, teams learn how to transform their idea into a robust and scalable business model.
Growing network of experts
The hosted projects, as well as all employees and external partners, also benefit from the numerous Innovation Center service offerings: internal start-ups can receive coaching from experienced innovators. Practical training, workshops, lectures, and online tutorials are also available. The Innovation Think Tank evaluates technological, social, and economic trends and derives innovation projects from this information. A growing network of internal and external experts is also available to answer questions on a wide range of issues. In addition to this, experienced managers from the Group are on hand as mentors and networkers.
Altogether, this provides a breeding ground for new business ideas – again in line with two of our competencies: “be innovative” and “be collaborative”.
Which brings me back to my last article on our competency model. I really enjoyed to read the comments I received. Thanks for the feedback and for discussing the article! One question was raised several times by those who commented: How do we implement the competency model? Yes, as always the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. Or in other words: I fully agree, designing a competency model alone is no success. It’s important to implement it in all people management processes. At Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, our values and our complementary competency model build the basis for our people management: our leadership culture, hiring processes, performance management, people and leadership development, training programs etc. – no matter what we do in people management, we do it based on our values and our competency model. This has nothing to do with “order and control” which is – from my perspective – an outdated leadership concept of the past. Our competency model is a framework that helps to build a common understanding for our leaders and our employees across the whole company, its three businesses and its more than 50.000 employees with 129 nationalities, working in 66 countries.