Get outrageous to get ahead

Get outrageous to get ahead

Calls to raise productivity have never been more pressing, at a time when the outlook for world economic growth is uncertain. Even then, the reality of getting past the productivity plateau is a long-term challenge that many countries are all too familiar with.

BY GERRY TAN –

6 HOURS 52 MIN AGO

Calls to raise productivity have never been more pressing, at a time when the outlook for world economic growth is uncertain. Even then, the reality of getting past the productivity plateau is a long-term challenge that many countries are all too familiar with. At a time when businesses are facing increasing pressures to perform, what does it take for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to stay ahead of the game?Innovating by embracing technology or instituting radical new work processes can be daunting for SMEs because of the initial start-up cost and effort needed to train staff. But spending time and money on the right kind of innovation can take SMEs much further — whether towards increasing bottom-line profits, or getting ahead in the war for talent.

Innovation is not a good-to-have; it is a must-have. It is fundamentally about changing the way we do things in the first place. Innovation is also about being outrageous.

TAKE THE LEAP

During a downturn years ago, United States food maker Heinz stuck to its principle of investing in innovation when most companies were scaling back on what was seen as a non-core function.

Among its more recent and popular innovations was the way it packaged its sauces. Heinz’s Dip & Squeeze packaging, which made eating-on-the-go more convenient and less messy, won fans in North America, one of its biggest markets.

What SMEs need today is Heinz’s boldness — to push their innovation strategies in the most unlikely of times.

How did Griffin Kinetic do it? At a time when many SMEs were resistant to infocomm technology (ICT) and still using walkie-talkies, we traded our handsets for the Global Positioning System (GPS) vehicle tracking programme to help us track our deliveries more efficiently.

GPS technology was still not popular commercially, especially among SMEs. It was a rather outrageous move, but we calculated that we could be more efficient and have longer-term gains if we incorporated technology into our operations, even though it was costly to start.

The switch enabled us to know in real time where each of our trucks was, where it was travelling to and how fast it was moving.

We were also able to tell clients confidently where their shipments were and give a good estimation of arrival times.

This was an important development in a time-critical business like ours. Not only did we improve productivity and customer service levels, sales figures also rose.

By 2009, we were handling a total of 8,000 ships, and this had spiked to 10,000 ships by last year. Successful delivery count has since increased our compound annual growth rate by 10 per cent. We also saw the number of service failures fall steadily at a rate of 20 per cent yearly.

Outrageous acts are only seen as such because nobody has done them. Yet, the first-mover advantage is precisely where their value lies.

How else will SMEs survive the onslaught of competition, rising costs and the labour crunch?

Tried-and-tested methods are not success formulas; they are antecedents to stagnancy.

CHANGE IS THE CONSTANT

Today’s business environment requires companies to move quickly in order to maintain their competitive lead. Therefore, the search for new ideas must be constant.

Our drive to innovate and hunt for new and efficient methods of operating continues today.

Griffin Kinetic’s latest venture is in electronic freight, or e-freight. In the past, each international airfreight shipment required about 30 sets of documents to be processed. This was tedious and error-prone.

But by capturing data at the very start of the shipping procedure, e-freight reduces the amount of paperwork needed to process deliveries, as well as errors.

In a recent test, the US Department of Transportation found that up to US$3.50 (S$4.50) is saved per shipment, which is largely achieved from time and labour savings.

There is great potential for e-freight. The International Air Transport Association, a strong advocate, estimates almost US$5 billion in savings every year for the industry as a result of reduced shipping times and more accurate shipping data.

ALL HANDS ON DECK

Getting everyone involved is the first step towards any successful change. In a similar vein, innovation is best driven as a company-wide effort — and it works best when there is a partnership of two groups of people to drive it.

The first consists of experienced people who have both company knowledge and strong positive values. These are staff who are not necessarily in management positions, but have been working in the company for some time.

The second group is made up of freshies — company or industry newbies — who can bring new perspectives to the operations. Because they are free from domain knowledge and norms, they can think unconventionally. When both groups work together, they can generate creative ideas.

Simply saying you are obsessed with innovation — or paying lip service to it on your website — is not good enough. It has to be led by management and driven in a sustainable manner, either through long-term projects where staff are rewarded for being innovative or by drilling it into the company culture.

THE HUMAN ELEMENT

Other than innovating and investing in technology to boost productivity, SMEs can also look into new ways to improve internal processes — such as the management of human capital — to enhance productivity.

Griffin Kinetic turned to SPRING Singapore’s HR Capability Toolkit five years ago, and started not just making innovative human resource decisions but also implementing doctrines. One of the biggest lessons we learnt was to have a sense of what employees expect from us and where we were falling short. The Employee Relations module in the toolkit resonated most with us, in this respect.

We have many employees from a diverse range of backgrounds, and it was important that we knew the aspirations of each group of people and understood what motivates them.

Even a simple act of listening to feedback goes a long way because an employee will feel respected for his input.

We live in exciting and promising times. While we are restructuring our economy at the national level through better productivity, at the organisational and individual level, it is about turning challenges and constraints into opportunities.

Any passionate SME should incorporate a culture of innovation not only to sharpen the competitiveness of its products and services, but also to bring out the best in its people.

Big or small, we should constantly review the way we do business, as well as how we innovate and manage our talent, to produce outcomes that might transform our businesses and even our industry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Gerry Tan is the Managing Director of Griffin Kinetic, an international logistics transportation company based in Singapore. He is also a member of the National Productivity and Continuing Education Council which drives the national productivity movement.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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