Entrepreneurship and COVID-19
CorporateAugust 25, 2020

Balancing entrepreneurship, innovation, and growth in a changing landscape

2020 has so far been a year of change and challenge, both of which have never been barriers to entrepreneurial spirit and growth. For established organizations in times of the COVID-19 crisis, how can entrepreneurial ventures be supported and fostered, and how can they ensure employees thrive in this environment?

In its 184-year history, Wolters Kluwer has grown through some immensely impactful global events, and with a history of that significance - and the learning that comes from those historical challenges - how do we continue to grow and keep entrepreneurial innovation at the heart of our business?


According to Wolters Kluwer Chief Strategy Officer Atul Dubey, large organizations must nurture or create an entrepreneurial culture, and find a balance between stability and entrepreneurship. 


Not just a buzzword, intrapreneurship occurs when a large organization allows space for internal entrepreneurship to flourish among its employees. Practicing intrapreneurship and engaging your customers are both key to making sure this balance is achieved, says Dubey. In the wake of COVID-19, and the digital transformation that is now required by companies to thrive, how can organizations look further into the future with confidence?

Balancing entrepreneurship and stability


Wolters Kluwer has made it its mission to find this balance between entrepreneurial growth and stability, creating a culture that encourages strategic innovation. Nurturing this balance has been key to taking its 184-year heritage and fueling it with technology to ensure relevance into the next century.

Entrepreneurship requires capital and risk-taking. Wolters Kluwer has continuously invested in innovation to promote entrepreneurship at all levels of the organization. Since 2003, the organization has devoted 8%-10% of its annual revenues to innovation, focusing on new and enhanced products and services to optimize its existing portfolio.


Capital alone, however, is not enough. An intrapreneurial culture needs to be fostered, and formalizing it is one of the key ingredients, according to Brian Diffin, CTO of Global Technology with Tax & Accounting at Wolters Kluwer. “You need to have a very disciplined process, so you can leverage the energy of your employees’ creativity, allowing everyone to be a part of it.”


Formalizing employee innovation


Diffin runs the The Code Games, an annual coding innovation competition that exposes employees to smart thinking and the latest technology in tax and accounting. “The Code Games was a groundswell from within our office just when hackathons were first starting in the professional space. We thought running a hackathon too would help customers understand this was an event based on innovation.”


The Code Games capitalize on the already-strong frameworks of learning and innovation that have grown to support Wolters Kluwer customers globally. Effective innovation needs this strong framework, it needs proof points, data and guidance that is customer focused. 


The Code Games creates an environment that encourages collaboration and friendly competition while helping empower employees to quickly make vital decisions at any given moment,” says Karen Abramson, Chief Executive Officer of Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. “This allows us to drive an agile culture that helps us meet the changing needs of our customers while having a bit of fun at the same time!


This year’s Code Games truly followed the spirit of agility and innovation, taking place virtually as employees globally continue to work largely from home. 


The Tax & Accounting division at Wolters Kluwer isn’t the only one to have its version of the Code Games – the Governance, Risk & Compliance division also holds an annual version with its ROCKathon, and Legal & Regulatory is a sponsor and participant in the Global Legal Hackathon, and holds innovation events through the year such as Enablon’s Spark Week, which customers can also join in.


This will mark the tenth year of Wolters Kluwer’s Global Innovation Awards, an innovation competition which sees 75% of winning ideas brought to life as products and services. The tournament follows a highly formalized procedure where ideas fall into three categories: core business innovation, game-changers, and internal processes, in line with the 2019-2021 business strategy, Accelerating Our Value.


The input and ideas received, whether they win or not, are instrumental in transforming our customers’ experiences and are continually improving internal processes. “Internally, it creates a culture of striving for the best, rather than settling for what’s working today. Customers and prospects take notice of that as we involve them,” says Sandeep Sacheti, Executive Vice President of Customer Information Management and Operational Excellence for Wolters Kluwer Governance, Risk & Compliance. Investing in an innovative culture and engaging employees in creative processes allows Wolters Kluwer to continually anticipate the needs of our customers.


“Innovation is about creating value in new ways. We see that the best innovation is driven from interaction between employees from different roles - customer facing, product management, subject matter experts and technologists, says Hans Suijkerbuijk, Head of Global Product Development & Innovation for Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory. “And today we do this more than ever. As a result, customers see richer and better-connected solutions.”


Understanding customers’ pain points


“Successful organizations innovate every aspect of their business and put technology to work across a broad range of different solutions. To provide value to our customers requires us to balance short-term tactical innovation along with game-changing, long-term innovations. This balance is pivotal,” according to Dennis Cahill, CTO for Wolters Kluwer Digital eXperience Group.


Wolters Kluwer works side-by-side with customers to create and manage solutions driven by a deep understanding of their needs, addressing the rapid changes in their environment. “Key to accelerating the development of expert solutions is being exposed to each other’s ideas and customer pain points,” says Jean-Claude Saghbini, CTO for Wolters Kluwer Health. According to Saghbini, some companies fail because they don’t spend enough time understanding their customers’ pain points before jumping into product development.


Real world impact


Entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and innovation all work towards the same goal: Helping people – and without this human focus, their impact is less meaningful, which is why we always innovate with our employees and clients at the forefront of our mind. 


“Innovation is integral to our way of working”, says CEO Nancy McKinstry. “What inspires us are opportunities to innovate solutions that matter to our customers, their clients, and our operations. I see that ambition in our business units, divisions and in all our regions. Hearing our people stand up and say things like, ‘This innovation saves lives’ or ‘This innovation helps companies get ahead’ is inspiring”,  adds Nancy.

The ability to adapt with precision and agility to challenging situations is something that Nancy discussed recently in an interview with Harvard Business ReviewDuring this roundtable, design and retail CEO Tory Burch, Kevin Sneader of McKinsey & Company, Medtronic's Geoff Martha, Chuck Robbins of Cisco Systems, and our own CEO Nancy McKinstry talked about leadership in uncertain times. From Nancy's perspective, the focus should be on three key actions: Communicate, prioritize and adapt.

“Here at Wolters Kluwer, leading is first and foremost about communication,” said Nancy. “We’re in a phase of overcommunicating with our employees and our customers, to try to keep everybody up to speed on where we’re headed and to make sure we’re addressing concerns. Second, it’s about priorities. A big part of my interactions with the leadership team is around not just making adjustments on the cost side or in how we go to market, but keeping everyone focused on the top strategic priorities. And the third thing is to be adaptable. The world is changing every single day, and we need to keep asking: How can we help our customers? How can we help our communities? We need to clear away bureaucracy, address things very quickly, and be operationally agile.”


Next steps in a new world


As businesses move towards a world that has been shifted forward into change by COVID-19, and the digital transformation that has accompanied that, it’s still a digital transformation that is propelled by people. It’s visible in our employees every day, their innovation and entrepreneurship in supporting clients globally during the global pandemicOur customers have also adapted to new ways of working while still producing incredible results that are people-focusedWe will continue to see emerging innovation as the entrepreneurial spirit grows and thrives yet again at another historic moment.