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Invite Everybody In: Creating a Culture of Participation and Innovation at CEMEX

Gilberto Garcia, head of innovation at CEMEX, on transforming an entrenched organization and creating a culture of innovation

February 4, 2014, 12pm ET

What does it mean to create a genuine culture of innovation and collaboration—one in which every single person in the organization is switched on, alive and awake to the changes in the world and ready to contribute their ideas, insights, and particular point of view? How do you lay out the welcome mat for new ideas—especially the dissenting ideas and the challenging people who have them? How do you defeat the drag of bureaucracy and the stifling control of hierarchy to unleash the best gifts of every single person in the organization, every day?

These are the kinds of questions the leaders of CEMEX, the $15 billion global cement and building materials company, were asking themselves in the after the financial crisis of 2008, when they might be forgiven for clamping down and focusing on efficiency and control above all. Instead, the question on the table was: how do we increase collaboration, openness, and inventiveness across a company of some 47,000 employees across 100 countries? How do we open up the creative and strategic arena to everyone in the organization from the plant floor to the sales organization to the scientists to the builders? How do we make everyone part of the conversation about where CEMEX is headed?

The answer? A collaborative platform with all the elements of the best social networks—wikis, blogs, discussion boards, RSS, tagging, jams, real-time collaboration tools—called SHIFT. But SHIFT wasn’t just about creating a social network—it was designed to activate communities of passion around key priorities (from sustainability to what it means to be a 21st century construction company).

SHIFT’s rules of play: 1) every community is open to every employee—you just have to explain why you’re interested in contributing; 2) each community is sponsored by a business executive who represents it in the “formal” organization and a technology executive who acts as a steward of the interaction and outcomes; and 3) once a community reaches critical mass, it becomes responsible for defining its mission, creating a long-term plan, and putting it into action.

The idea: engage the entire company in conversation, debate, and invention around key strategic issues. And, in the process, close the gap between geography, function, generation, and levels of the organization. The result has been a burst of ingenuity, sharing of ideas and best practices, and a rapid iteration on those practices.

CEMEX launched SHIFT with 2,000 members in April 2010. Participation grew to 20,000 employees one year later. Today, just about everybody in the organization participates in the conversation via SHIFT. In the process, some 450 grassroots communities have emerged beyond those originally defined by SHIFT’s designers (from a group of electricians to a health and safety community).

The company has seen rapid development of new products, a dramatic reduction in time to market and slashed costs when it comes to travel, research, and testing. But the most important benefit is less tangible. As Gilberto Garcia, CEMEX’s head of innovation and one of the drivers of SHIFT, puts it: cross-company collaboration has become CEMEX’s default mode of getting things done. What’s more, the energy of SHIFT has translated into increased engagement across the board—individual employees are tremendously motivated by their new connections, visibility, and impact in the organization.

The journey is just beginning for CEMEX. Gilberto Garcia will join us for a Maverick Hangout to talk about SHIFT 2.0, the evolution of the platform, what it means to turn a traditional company into a truly social organization, how you cultivate a vibrant culture of innovation, and most important, how you switch on every last person in the organization.

And if you’re inspired by the themes of the Hangout, please share your own story or bold idea in the Unlimited Human Potential Challenge. Learn more here.

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antonio-vega's picture

Hello Gilberto,
Do you run SHIFT isolated from other company tools? If not what other knowledge-based tools do you use? Have you planned to develop a Gamification program in order to empower SHIFT and the behaviour associated?
Thank you in advance.

jesus-gilberto-garcia's picture

Our design principle is integration, we do integrate Shift with existing applications by example SAP lo leverage workflows notifications, We do document our best practices mainly using wikies, we do have a CEMEXpedia is part of Shift. normally our community managers organize the content including the best practices

antonio-vega's picture

Thank you very much.

lorinda-r-rowledge's picture

I know Cemex has been pursuing sustainability/sustainable development. How has SHIFT and your evolved organizational culture advanced environmental, social and economic sustainability? Please provide examples if possible.

jesus-gilberto-garcia's picture

We use our network to connect all colleagues that works in the sustainability area it is a global community with members from different areas in the company. This community has leadership and report progress and project to the executive committe

kourosh-sharifirad's picture

Thanks a lot. The video was really instrumental as well as inspirational. Good luck.

kourosh-sharifirad's picture

1- How do you practically balance the conflict between efficiency and innovation in CEMEX specially while allocating limited budget, time and resources ?
2- How do you manage to have a solid and effective communication among all elements of your company(leadership, business model, culture, mind-set, strategy, process, and so on) so that there would be sufficient organisational cohesion and integration to drive innovation and growth?

jesus-gilberto-garcia's picture

We find a balance by rational experimentation, by definition is value driven and we do document lessons learned. The relevance is once you find something that creates value we need to replicate it globally providing guidance and support to fully understand it.
For the second question we use webcast of leaders, open dialog forums and traditional publishing materials but as well use the global network to disseminate the principles and the key message across all employees this is key and its very challenging.

matt-frost_1's picture

What obstacles did CEMEX remove along its journey to a more 'social,' collaborative organization? For example, did CEMEX change incentives structures? Did it shift expectations for people managers? Did it change certain pre-existing training programs?

naveen-khajanchi's picture

Creating a wholesome space where , people are secure from within and some non agenda meetings come up . There has to be a larger purpose behind it . I share an article link in the context of Family business particularly India where our desire is to normally create wealth for future generations

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