Deloitte's innovation chief reveals the 4 key questions leaders need to ask to build a culture where employees aren't afraid to take risks and share creative ideas

  • Nishita Henry is the chief innovation officer at Deloitte Consulting, a professional-services firm with more than 106,000 employees worldwide.
  • Henry was previously featured as one of Business Insider's power players in management consulting.
  • In an interview with Business Insider, the CIO shared the four questions leaders should ask themselves to find new sources of revenue and revamp operations. 
  • She recommended that employers create a culture that encourages experimentation.
  • Business Insider is launching a newsletter on gender identity and career success. Sign up here to receive Gender at Work in your inbox.
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Companies are looking for new, innovative strategies to help them recover from the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

That's according to Nishita Henry, chief innovation officer at Deloitte Consulting, a professional-services firm with more than 106,000 global employees, and the executive lead for the firm's own innovation efforts. She's worked at Deloitte for more than 15 years, and spearheaded the development of Deloitte Catalyst, the firm's business arm that works with startup clients. 

Henry's extensive knowledge on how artificial intelligence, cloud, and cyber security plays a critical role in business transformations led her to be featured as one of Business Insider's power players in management consulting.

In an interview with Business Insider, she explained that the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way business leaders think about how they work, where and when they work, and the type of work that's being done.

The CIO said being innovative means that you are always on the lookout for new sources of revenue and strategies to make your company more efficient.

During the coronavirus pandemic, there have been numerous examples of companies finding innovative ways to adapt to the new normal. For example, Amazon converted some Whole Foods grocery stores into "dark stores," or locations solely to meet the online demand for food, Business Insider previously reported. This way, the grocery retailer can decrease employees' exposure to coronavirus and is able to fill in more online orders. 

While coronavirus may be a catalyst for change, employers always need to be thinking about how they can be more creative, Henry said. 

"Nothing in business stays the same for that long," she said. "And if you're not innovating your business, someone's innovating you out of it." 

There are four questions Henry said employers should ask themselves right now to help make sure they're on the right track. 

Do I have the right people? 

You need a set of leaders who are willing to do things differently, and you need employees who feel empowered enough to challenge the status quo, Henry said. 

"There are tools and techniques for getting people to step out of their comfort zones — or train people to adopt an innovative mindset — but you have to reinforce that innovation isn't a one-time training," she said. 

While employers may hire new talent as a means to grow their operations, the CIO stressed that leaders should also create incentives for existing employees to try new things and adopt a growth mindset.

An example of this is Google's 20% time policy, Henry said. For years, Google has encouraged employees to dedicate 20% of their time to work on personal projects. Giving employees time to work on projects they are passionate about can help spur innovation. 

"This gives people a chance to play to their strengths, and it enables them to grow in their careers on a consistent basis," she said. 

Do I have a diverse set of minds? 

You need a diverse team to create the best business solutions. 

This is backed by research. A 2018 McKinsey study of 1,000 companies found that leadership teams with more gender diversity are 21% more likely to be profitable. Moreover, companies with higher levels of ethnic and cultural diversity experienced a 33% increase in performance, Business Insider previously reported.

"Diversity brings differences of thought, different perspectives on the solutions, and it opens our eyes to blind spots that we might not have thought about before," Henry said. 

One emerging area that demands diversity involves concerns around technology and tech ethics. As companies continue to develop new products, Henry said diverse workforces can help leaders better understand the implications of the increased dependence on technology. 

"In today's day and age, just because the tech can do something doesn't mean it should," the CIO said. "Having a diverse workforce can help us understand all the impacts of things like facial recognition, algorithms, other tech advances, and its potential downfalls." 

Am I building a culture that encourages experimentation? 

Every company needs to run experiments to develop new products and improve business operations. 

Stefan H. Thomke, a Harvard Business School professor who spent 25 years studying experimentation in businesses, previously wrote that having an "everything is a test" mentality yields large payoffs and even better stock performance. He argued that businesses should adopt the scientific method of testing over and over again without the fear for negative results. 

"Quite frankly, innovation takes trial and error," Henry said. "It takes us doing things differently that may not always work the first time. Leaders should focus on creating a culture that celebrates those hard lessons instead of punishing people for failures." 

Do I have the right connections with external stakeholders? 

Apart from building from within, employers should create an ecosystem of external partners who bring in new ideas, Henry said. 

Deloitte Catalyst, for example, is a key relationship curator for startups, major companies, and competitors to share resources and codevelop solutions for customers at the professional-services firm. 

In a year, Henry built relations with the startup economy in Israel, as well as a network of 80% of the Fortune 500 companies in the world. 

"You need the connectivity and a team that's constantly working with partners and testing software, hardware, and different technologies," she added. "One thing alone might not solve your problem, but many things will. You need to stay connected while building a business." 

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