Image of Chris Akayan

Chris Akayan

Head of Culture & Capability

Chris Akayan was appointed Head of Culture & Capability in March 2017.

Building a Culture of Innovation At Mirvac - The Story So Far

16th September 2020

At Mirvac, our mission is to Reimagine Urban Life, which means we’re always searching for ways to improve the urban experience for people living in our cities.

As the world around us continues to rapidly change, so do the needs of our customers, and it’s essential that we evolve with them, which is why innovation needs to be core to our culture, and must run through every aspect of our business.

We have a long history of innovation, and have received plenty of recognition for it. In fact, we were just named by Fast Company as one of the top 50 Workplaces for Innovators in the world, and earlier in the year they ranked us seventh in their World’s Most Innovative Companies, Urban Development and Real Estate Category.

Despite this success, we never take the attitude that innovation “just happens”.

We know that if we want everyone at Mirvac to feel empowered to innovate, we need to continually and intentionally cultivate a culture where they will.

The signals our people receive about ‘how we work’ at Mirvac and ‘what is important’ need to demonstrate that our culture embraces innovation.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share the learnings from SIX important decisions we’ve made that have helped us embed an effective culture of innovation at Mirvac.

1. Your definition of ‘innovation’ matters

What does the word ‘innovation’ mean to you? What does it mean to your company?

With such a broad range of interpretations and expectations attached to it, we knew that establishing a clear definition of the word “innovation” was a crucial and foundational step in creating a truly innovative culture. And so, we did:

 
 
At Mirvac, we define innovation as “change that adds value”.

This definition is not only simple to remember and easy to understand, it also demystifies the idea of innovation and positions it as an activity that everyone at Mirvac, from executives to interns, can engage in. Most importantly, it makes it crystal clear what innovation at Mirvac is for: Making things better. For our customers, for our communities, for our planet, and for each other.

2. The structure of your team matters

Inside many corporates, the Innovation Team is a standalone business unit who, despite best intentions, are often perceived as disruptors, pushing for change and making life ‘difficult’ for everyone else in the company who just want to get on with their jobs.

At Mirvac, we have a dedicated and highly talented innovation team (known as Hatch, some of whom are pictured above), but rather than standing alone, they sit within the broader Culture and Capability Team and their role is to partner with our businesses to help them best achieve their strategies. This structural decision has proven to be one of the most important decisions we made, and one of the most significant factors in the success of embedding innovation at Mirvac not as an isolated or ad-hoc activity, but as part of the culture. 

 

3. Opening innovation to everyone matters

In the corporate world, Innovation can struggle with an image problem. It can seem elitist, a mysterious activity reserved for the select few confident and skilled enough to engage in it. But at Mirvac, we work hard to make sure innovation feels not only approachable, but easy to initiate.

That’s why anyone within our organisation is able to approach the Hatch team with a challenge, a problem, or an opportunity for improvement from within their part of the business. The Hatch team will then work with them, following our proven innovation methodology, to find and implement unique, creative solutions.

Since its inception in 2016, Hatch has worked on over 85 projects within Mirvac, collaborating with everyone from Human Resources to Construction to tackle challenges, and then celebrate together when these challenges are overcome.

 

4. Advocacy matters

A key part of driving an innovation culture through all areas of our business has been the annual recruitment of our Hatch Innovation Champions. These champions represent a ‘slice’ of the organisation, from a mix of divisions, locations and seniority.

Talented, driven people who are passionate about innovation are encouraged to volunteer as Innovation Champions. Those selected then receive intensive training from the Hatch team, which encompasses the end-to-end innovation process, and includes participation in at least 1-2 customer scans, where they learn about the importance of speaking directly to customers.

Balancing day-to-day ‘business as usual’ work with the demands of building ideas can be challenging. The Champions therefore have their roles formally changed so that three days of their working year can be dedicated purely to innovation.

In addition to their training, Champions are also provided with tools and support so they can assist other staff members with the implementation of their ideas, and it’s not uncommon to hear stories of Champions taking Hatch ideology with them into their ‘day jobs’.

In terms of numbers, last year the Hatch team trained 63 new Innovation Champions, which was our largest cohort of champions ever. To date, we’ve trained over 5 cohorts of Innovation Champions, resulting in over 22% of our workforce being trained in Hatch’s innovation methodology, and a permanent spread of innovation culture across our business. Ultimately, this is how we build the broader innovation capability and culture across Mirvac.

5. Being ‘safe to fail’ matters

One of the biggest hurdles with scaling innovation in a corporate company is creating an environment where it is okay to fail. However, as innovation is about trying something new, often at an incredible pace, and often with unexpected results, a ‘safe to fail’ environment is crucial.

That’s why feedback mechanisms at Mirvac are clearly focused on learnings, rather than failures.

If you try something that doesn’t work, we emphasise the importance of sharing what you’ve learned so that everyone else can benefit. With no failures, and only learnings, our people and teams are released to push boundaries and experiment confidently with new concepts.

6. Diversity and inclusion matter

Well, here we are at the final point. And it’s a big one. Because at Mirvac, we recognise that if we want game-changing innovations, we need to embrace diversity, and harness the wealth of unique perspectives that exist across our business.

When we recruit our Innovation Champions, we ensure we have equal representation from all Australian states, an equal balance of both genders, and an equal slice of each business division. In our ideation sessions, we aim to involve at least 50% non-Mirvac people.

We’ve also regularly been recognised as one of the most inclusive workplaces in Australia, with 75% of Mirvac employees taking advantage of flexible working arrangements, 44% of our senior management are women, and a zero like-for-like gender pay gap for 4 consecutive years.

All that to say that Mirvac already has a culture that celebrates diversity of thought and encourages the sharing of perspectives and experiences, so it only makes sense that we intentionally harness this goldmine of unique viewpoints as we strive to innovate, in large and small ways, across our business every day.

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So there you have it.

Whilst we have made great progress, we also recognise that we will never be done - the world keeps changing and organisations must keep adapting. It is also important to remain humble, to be open to seeing the world with a beginner’s mind and to ensure we continue to fostering a culture that invites new perspectives.

I’m proud of all our employees that have embraced innovation and are applying it to solve the big and small challenges we are presented with every day. Ultimately, this is what will help us in our purpose to Reimagine Urban Life, by keeping customer needs at the centre of everything we do.

Want to know more?

If you’d like to learn more, you can visit the Innovation section of our website.