Ideas are the lifeblood of business. Organizations rely on ideas to innovate and remain relevant in an ever-changing marketplace. It is on the back of ideas that L&T has sustained itself for eight decades and retained its competitive edge. However, given the accelerating pace of innovation cycles and fast occurring digital disruptions in the last few years, merely having a deep reservoir of ideas no longer guarantees lead today. The need of the hour is to streamline the process of ideation and have mechanisms in place which allow good ideas to be actionized and successfully implemented.
With a view to achieve this, in March earlier this year, under the aegis of Mr. R. Shankar Raman, Whole-time Director & Chief Financial Officer, the L&T Shared Services Centre embarked on an ambitious plan and invited ideas from roughly 3000 Finance & Accounts (F&A) professionals spread throughout L&T. The initiative, christened F&A Challenge, aimed to generate worthy ideas which could be put into motion to weed out operational inefficiencies, fill systemic gaps and encourage a culture of innovation.
The maiden event, announced open on March 1 received an overwhelming response from the F&A fraternity with over 266 ideas from individuals and teams submitted to a portal created especially for the initiative. A precondition for entering the contest was that the ideas had to cover at least one of the six key themes viz., Improving Profitability, Managing Contractual Risk, Improving Asset Utilisation, Reducing Working Capital, Upgrading Performance Reporting, and Deploying Technology for Improving Processes.
In the ensuing months, these ideas underwent multiple rounds of intense scrutiny. Separate juries comprising senior F&A professionals whittled down the total number first to 125, then to 20 and then finally to 8 after thoroughly examining each entry. The final 8 ideas were presented at the first ever F&A Challenge Grand Finale which took place on July 28, 2018 at Powai.
A host of senior L&T-ites attended the finale including Mr. R. Shankar Raman, Whole-time Director & Chief Financial Officer, Mr. Shrikant Joshi, CEO & MD, L&T Realty, Mr. A.K. Garg, EVP & Head - Construction & Mining Machinery Business, Mr. Y.V.S. Sravankumar, EVP - Accounts & Taxation and several others. Mr. R. Shankar Raman, Mr. Shrikant Joshi, and Mr. A.K. Garg acted as the jury for the finale where the eight finalist teams competed for the top honors.
Welcoming everyone to the event, Mr. Sravankumar explained the rationale behind the initiative and how L&T CFO Mr. R. Shankar Raman had personally pushed for creating a company-wide idea bank to infuse vibrancy in the function. “Ideas are nothing but a trigger for change. They are also the best evidence of employee engagement and motivation with the organization,” he said.
Before the eight finalist teams could make their pitch to the jury, they were briefed about the competition rules and explained in brief the criteria on which they were to be judged by the panel. Presentations were to be evaluated on the basis of not just organisational relevancy and strategic orientation of the ideas but also on the strength of the execution plan.
For the next two hours, the eight finalist teams presented their ideas to the three-member jury. Their themes included: Exploring Value for Disposal of Earth/Soil; Supplier Financial Risk Monitoring using Altman’s Z Score; Regular Supply Workmen Wages Standardization; Centralized Repository to Monitor Customer Credit Worthiness; Utilization of Surplus Stock across L&T; Simplification of Employee Communication Expenses and Savings for L&T; Central Procurement of Indirect Material and Services; and Centralised Monitoring & Reporting of Exim Operations.
The jury listened intently to each idea and quizzed the presenting teams so as to gauge the strength of their plans. Post the presentations, the members of jury addressed the audience and shared their feedback with the finalists. While Mr. Shrikant Joshi found it extremely heartening to see F&A professionals wanting to contribute to business, Mr. A.K. Garg deemed the event as a much-needed trigger for innovation and challenging the status quo across L&T.
For Mr. Shankar Raman, the F&A Challenge finale had been especially satisfying. He congratulated the organizing team for successfully conducting the finale. “It is time now for us to prepare the company for the years ahead and I think finance as a service function is well positioned to provide a distinct competitive advantage to the company,” he said. “It was great to see cross-functional teams work together on ideas with such intensity and passion and if we could take the same passion and energy and apply all this wisdom to our business I think we would be primed for guaranteed business growth and prosperity.”
The top three ideas chosen from the finale were announced shortly after the felicitation of the jury members. While a team from Buildings & Factories won the third spot for its idea of bringing about a standardization of wages across the regular supply category of workmen, another from B&F and TI took home the second prize for proposing utilization of surplus stock across L&T Construction businesses by creating portal for information sharing and collaboration among different businesses. The first prize went to a team called ‘The Curators’ for their idea of creating an internal e-commerce portal to centralise procurement of indirect material and services - essentially tools and supplies used in construction. The idea that such a portal could streamline the process, lead to shorter lead times and offer businesses greater leverage over suppliers was appreciated by everyone.
What stood out about the winning team was the fact that it comprised 14 members drawn from 11 different ICs all of whom had largely the same idea and thus were asked by the jury in the initial stages of the competition to join forces and work as one team.
All the eight finalists were to go in the ‘execution mode’ immediately and were assigned mentors for helping them overcome any logistical, administrative or strategic obstacles as they looked to implement their ideas.