“If we want to be truly ahead of the market, we need to do more of what we've been doing, but so much faster and in a more intense way.”
In this episode, we are pleased to welcome Roni Michael from KPMG International. Roni is dedicated to innovation at heart and in her role as Global Head of Innovation responsible for establishing, driving, and accelerating innovation activities within KPMG's global organization.
In addition to the question of how KPMG helps clients innovate in an increasingly fast-paced future, Roni also talks to us about how to maintain a balanced innovation portfolio, but also how to measure the success of innovation. We will also take a look at one of KPMG's focused topics, "The new era of work," which included a large-scale hackathon. Want to learn more? Then tune in!
Below you will find the full transcript for the episode.
Global innovation - together
Chris: Hi and welcome back to Innovation Rockstars! My name is Chris Mühlroth and in this episode, I am thrilled to welcome Roni Michael in her role as Global Head of Innovation. I'm very happy to have you on the show, Ronnie, really, thanks so much for joining.
Roni: Thank you so much for having me. I'm really thrilled to be here.
Chris: Same here. All right. And as always, we start straight away with a short 60 seconds introduction sprint. Now, you know, this was all about you, your career, and your current role. So for the next 60 seconds, the virtual stage is all yours. Let's go.
Roni: Wonderful. Well, I am 46, Israeli raised and born, and a very happily married mother of two sons. I love life. I love laughing and I love people, and I try to encompass that in almost everything that I've done. I've had the great pleasure to be able to do that for the past 20 years in different roles at KPMG. I've set up to IT Advisory here in KPMG Israel and Technology Consulting Group, AI, data, cyber. And in the past one and a half years, I've led innovation globally for KPMG, which has been really exciting, being able to look at what technology, society, and other things are doing to affect businesses, the market, different sectors, and just in general how we live. I don't know if I've hit the 60 seconds.
Chris: Perfectly on time. That’s a wonderful introduction, and maybe to get to know you just a little bit better, I do have three sentence starters for you. I'll give you the sentence starters. And I would like you to complete those sentences. So let's see what happens. Number one goes like this, “My personal driver to work in corporate innovation is…”
Roni: ...is to change for the better through people, technology, and working with inspiring individuals and organizations.
Chris: Yeah, and it's an exciting space to be in, and I bet that, specifically with the teams you have. Alright, awesome. So number two: “For me, the term “Innovation” means…”
Roni: It means changing the prism and the way you look at, you know, filling in the dots- business, life, a specific technology, and so on.
"To me innovation means changing the prism and the way you look at, you know, filling in the dots, business, life, a specific technology, and so on."
Chris: Yeah, it's all-encompassing. Interesting. All right. And number three, I'm really interested to hear that “The book I have given most as a gift is…”
Roni: It's a book co-written by the Dalai Lama and Daniel Goleman. I think it's called “Negative Feelings”. And I really highly recommend it.
Chris: All right, everybody get that book. Great. Thank you for that.
KPMG x innovation
Chris: Now let's dive into KPMG and its innovation efforts. Because I think that's really an impressive story. So in recent years, we all have experienced a period of unprecedented change, right? It led to a new wave of innovations and then came up, new solutions, value propositions, business models, even technologies. So in that light, KPMG is accelerating its efforts in innovation on a global scale. My question would be, Why now? I mean, what led to KPMG's decision to accelerate their efforts in innovation?
Roni: Well, first of all, I would say KPMG has been doing so much around innovation for as long as I've been there, and I've been at KPMG for 20 years. I think one really clear decision is to make it more evident, to tell a more cohesive story around innovation. That's not just embedded in everything that we do, actually talk about innovation by itself. It's part of our culture. It's the way we think and act, and really, setting it apart and saying, “See, we did that, and that's innovative, it's innovation”, and we do that more and more because it actually matters to our people. It matters to the organizations we work with, to our ecosystems, and to the market. So one really clear decision is to tell that story in a clearer or more vocal way. And we tried to do that through framing so much of what we've already done, like co-creation with our ecosystems, thinking about what the future is going to look like and saying, ‘See, that's how we look at the future and innovation’. And I think telling the story is a very, very significant part of getting the message through. The other thing, and you said it yourself right, the world's changing is just the pace of things. A lot of this has been reactive from so many parts of the market. KPMG is an organization that helps clients around the world and different types of organizations, governments, and corporates to really think about what are the next steps that they need to do. We are often much more proactive, and think about what it feels like being proactive in such a hectic market. It just requires straining that muscle more and more and more. So I think more than anything else, if we want to be truly ahead of the market and if we want to look into the future, we have to do more of what we've done, but so much faster and in a more intense way. So I think those are really two decisions that are clearly evident in the way that we act.
"The goal at KPMG is to make innovation more evident, and to tell a more cohesive story around it. That it's not just embedded in everything that we do, actually talk about innovation by itself. It's part of our culture."
Chris: Yeah, that's super interesting and concerning, you know, telling the stories and also communicating them. What are some of the formats that you have to communicate stories, but also communicate success stories, learnings, and innovation, in digital and physical formats. How do you communicate?
Roni: Well, some of the things that we've done is that we've actually created some assets that we can share with our own people and with the market around the innovation activities that we do. We run a global hackathon or a challenge. If we deep dive into the future of a specific industry and have conversations with leaders around that specific sector or industry, then, we make it a point to actually wrap that up and serve it very nicely to our own people, to our clients, to the market, and to our ecosystems, so that they can have a better understanding of what it is that we do. And, like you asked me before, what does it mean for us to innovate.
Chris: And I learned you also have a podcast, if I'm informed correctly.
Roni: That's true. I did have a podcast of my own. It's called “Back from 2040”. One of the things that I'm really interested about is the ‘future’. I'm interested about it, especially because I do believe that the future is something that we can actively shape, not just as society but also as individuals, organizations, and corporates. And so, I really like looking at the future and talking about what we want it to be. Even by discussing what we want it to be, we're driving change. So in this podcast, I invite my guests to talk about their journey into 2040. They go to 2040, they come back, and they tell me what it was like, and they have to imagine 2040 the way that they want it to evolve and unravel. It's very interesting, and it's one of the things I really like to do.
Chris: And I guess it's available in all the major podcast formats, so if you guys are interested, check it out. And we'll also make sure to link it in the show notes of this episode. Now concerning your clients, you've already talked about how you're helping them. But going forward, what role do you foresee in the coming years for KPMG in helping your clients innovate?
Roni: Well, you know how you asked me ‘what innovation is’. And I told you it's that point of view, the way that you look at prism, and the angle that you catch. I think it's really opening that angle as wide as possible. I think innovation doesn't only mean different things to different people in organizations. It actually is a different thing. And for organizations to innovate, one of the things that they need to do is just kind of step out of their own shell and really look at things from not just an outside-in but also different types of angles. Of course, another way, in order to innovate, you have to be a little bit off guard. So you have to take a little bit of the guard that you have on a day-to-day basis. I think our ability to create that intimate discussion through understanding our client's business, understanding the market, and understanding the sector through deep expertise and also through deep personal relationships. I think that's definitely something that can drive innovation. And obviously, lastly, is the ability to really bring in that deep understanding from different places, if it's from technology, quantum, AI, and cloud. If it's for sector expertise, it fits around social changes, and just kind of pull those together and create it all encompassing discussion around the different angles of initiative or challenge that really brings value.
In order to innovate you have to be a little bit off guard. I think our ability to create that intimate discussion by understanding our customer's business, by understanding the market, by understanding the sector through deep expertise and also through deep personal relationships.
Chris: It certainly does. And, you know, I think there is both an opportunity but also, a challenge in that because all the different change factors you just mentioned, that include economic, societal, and technological factors. You know the number of change factors you have to observe over time is just increasing, and it's getting faster and faster. So this opens up new opportunities for growth, but you also need to make sure that with those business areas and those many opportunities, you also maintain a balanced innovation portfolio. So not only shoot for the moonshots for the crazy 10x, 100x opportunities, but also to have something in the core business and also in the adjacent business. So, how does KPMG look at that, and then how can you possibly try to build and also maintain a balanced innovation portfolio given all these things that are happening right now?
Roni: Yeah. Thank you so much for asking me that question. Because, to balance my previous answer, I would say, it's not about that moonshot, and it's not about dispersing your efforts around innovation to touch this, that, and the other. It really does have to start with the core business, and you're kind of breaking the barriers to think of what this business could be. What is potential? So first of all, looking at the big picture and understanding what could we be, and then focusing on the organization's strategy, what it aspires to be, and really diving into specific and focused initiatives. When I say society, technology, the environment, and so many other factors, I actually say that when we focus on a specific challenge or a place that we want to be, when we target ourselves to a point where we want to be, we have to take those in mind. But we actually have to drive focused initiatives that have looked at that. I think driving a portfolio of innovation cannot be a thing of its own. It really goes to an organization, a company's strategy and what they want to be. And through that strategy, even thinking about today; not even about tomorrow or the day after that—requires innovation because you want to make today better. So you want to really look at how could you become better today? What kind of organization, or entity would you like to be, tomorrow? When I say tomorrow, I mean in three or five years, and what is the meaning and purpose of what you want to be in 10 years from now? That's part of why I love looking at the future, because you can actually go back and forth and understand how to adjust yourself today and tomorrow to become what you want to be the day after that.
Chris: Yeah, it's also taking those very concrete steps in the core business. Absolutely agreed. Yes. So, is there any way how you actually measure innovation success? I mean, it's an ongoing debate about how to make sure you measure output and outcome from innovation. And then, going forward, also the success of innovation. Do you have any framework or procedure on how to measure success of innovation?
Roni: Well, I think for us, it's an ongoing discussion, internally as well as with our clients. We do have a methodology of how to create innovation, steps within an organization, and how to measure, but let me just go back to the core of it. In fact, just by separating innovation from the core activity, you actually do a little bit of harm and injustice to what it is that you do. So I would say, how do you manage and measure an organization's success in their strategy? So there are clear KPIs to do that. I think it starts with the strategy, and once you set that strategy, ask yourself, “have I been innovative, and have I actually stepped out of the boundaries of myself as an organization of what I want to be”. Once you do that, and your strategy is set to innovate, you can just measure the success of actually executing on that strategy. So I think, in many terms, organizations still don't do the first step, which is actually just look at the way that we've built the process of driving our strategy, corporate, organization, local, or global strategy. Once we look at that and say, have we been innovative enough and by innovative, really made sure that we have aimed to be the best organization that we think we could be all things given? And really kind of strive to break the boundaries of what we think in the business world and the world in general. I think that once you do that, you can just go ahead and measure your own KPIs. And then, after having said that, yes, for sure we've developed very clear methods of innovating. One of them is co-innovating and co-ideating with our ecosystem, and the way that we measure that is how many times we actually do that together with clients, third parties, and just different parts of our ecosystem.
Chris: I think this is a very good way how to look at that because sometimes organizations are still confused or misaligned of their innovation efforts with the actual company's strategy. So they use many different instruments of innovation, be it some labs, accelerators, venture builder. There are tons of instruments you can build, and obviously, they have their own purpose, but sometimes, they seem to be disconnected to, for example, a growth strategy or growth ambitions. So you know, questions for example, how much of the overall organization's growth should be attributed to innovation or covered by innovation efforts? These are things that clearly help to tying this to the company strategy, as you say, so start with a strategy and make sure innovation efforts are really embedded in what the overall organization does. And if it's moonshots, okay, well, fine, but then, certainly a small proportion, or a big bet, but a small proportion of the growth portfolio might come from those moonshot projects, but how would you know? So that's a really good answer— tying this to the strategy and making sure it's embedded in the organization and not some crazy guys running somewhere around, right?
Roni: And I'll maybe add something short to that. I'll say, I do think that there is true value in experimentation and creating those projects on the side. I think it really has to do with the appetite an organization has to try different things in different ways of working, different business models, and so on. So every organization really has to identify its own appetite. But one thing that is very clear for us is that those initiatives and experiments do sometimes need to be siloed. But they need to be really quickly assessed to see if they somehow go back to the organization's strategy. So we say ‘fail fast’. If you intend to succeed, you'll see it really quickly. If it succeeds, then that's great. Also, never intend to succeed 100% of the time, because that's a really terrible strategy because you will only go for safe bets to really try to envision what level of failure your organization is willing to accept. And then, by that, allow yourself to bet to drive experimentation in other areas and really live by that. I don't know, let's say 50/50. We think 50% is going to succeed and 50% is going to fail. If you see it's failing, fail fast. And then the pain of failure will not be that high. And you'll actually start working on that muscle which is experimentation, which is something that basically, we do every day of our lives, even in the way that we interact. We interact in a certain way. We look at how someone responds, and we adjust ourselves really quickly. So the adjusting part, that's very important.
Chris: So you have to fail fast and learn fast, obviously. Right? So I love that. That is great advice. So I would love to talk a bit about something you mentioned earlier, the hackathon. But before we go to the hackathon, let's play a quick game. The game is called “Either-Or” and it's pretty simple. This is how it works: I will give you two options, you will choose either Option A or Option B. You choose one of those options and then spend one or two sentences each to briefly explain your choice, and speed is key. Right? Number one: If you had either superpower, which of the following would you rather do: ‘Travel back in time or forward in time and why?’
Roni: I think you've already guessed that I'd travel forward, for sure. And the reason is because I really believe that, I see the future, come back, and change what I didn't like about it.
Chris: Number two: if you were to write your own memoir one day in the future - would you rather write it digitally or handwritten with pen and paper, and why?
Roni: For sure handwritten. I actually do write a little bit not my memoirs, but I do write a little bit. I believe that we could have a whole discussion about intuition. I really do believe in intuitiveness, and for my kids and definitely for their kids, I think it would probably be much more intuitive to use the keyboard. For me, as I'm a Gen X, it's still so much more intuitive for me to use pen and pencil. And it just lets my thoughts kind of roll immediately to the page.
Chris: It makes perfect sense. All right, thank you.
And number three: would you rather only live on the beach for a year or only live in a cabin in the woods for a year and why?
Roni: Well, I live in Israel. I can go to the beach almost whenever I want and it's sunny and hot, I think nine out of the 12 months. So I would definitely go into the cabin and in, andhe woods. I might be tired of it at a certain point in time. But definitely a change of scenery, and I love being around nature, trees, and plants.
New era of work - hackathon
Chris: Okay, now we've got that. And let's now talk about the hackathon because I'm really interested in. It's one of your instruments for getting things done, obviously for innovating, for co-creating with brilliant minds, but also with different cultures, different regions, and different minds with different backgrounds. So I guess it's a very good instrument, and I guess one of KPMG’s focused topics is the new era of work, which is a very broad topic. So let's talk about this for a while. Maybe we can define it first, right? So what is the new era of work, and where are its challenges?
Roni: Okay, well, great. I love this topic because, just like saying innovation, the new or future of work, the new era of work is just all-encompassing. But if we go back to the basics, what have always been the challenges of work? It's what organizations or the work requesters need, and what are the work providers looking for? And when we think about people a century ago, people needed money, they needed to live, they needed a way to make a living, which meant money, food, or a place to live, and once the organization provided that, that was okay. And later on, people wanted to get more out of that, maybe more money, but also sometimes more fulfillment, et cetera. I think when we look at that and when we look at this day and age, it really is about ‘what do people want and what they are asking for? And ‘what do organizations need, and what are they asking for? And how do we bridge that gap? So let's start with employees, with the people, because that's really critical. A few things that we already know, it's not anything new to anyone, but it's just kind of looking at the basics. People are really looking much more for meaning and values. They're looking much more for diversity and doing more things and different things. They're looking to get something that is suited for them individually, which I think is probably the third one and probably the most important thing because if we used to say this is what an employee wants, now we have to subcategorize it. And when we start doing that, we actually start realizing that every individual really wants something else. So it's also about the freedom of choice and the ability to pick and choose and to build something that is not molded. So those molds, they can't serve us anymore. So how do we create work opportunities for people who really want everything but want to choose what they want out of all these possibilities? At the same time, if we look at organizations, what do organizations want? They'd love to have people staying as much as possible if they're good, that's what organizations have always wanted. But they've started acknowledging that they can't control that. They'd like people to be very strong on people skills, technology skills, and being outgoing if possible, but also be able to deep dive. But they also understand that people are different. So I think it's rare that people can do all of this. So really understanding how to tap into those abilities in different ways. So, to sum it up, it's important because it's crucial for every organization. It's critical because the changes there have been the fastest ones we've seen, and they have just kind of almost blown up in our faces. And we really need to figure out what our strategy is in our organization or every organization on this planet, in terms of bringing in people, making sure that they're happy, and making sure that we get the best out of what they have to offer and what we need as an organization
Chris: And to explore what a future of that could look like or maybe even the digital future of work could look like, you ran an innovation challenge and hackathon, right? So I guess there is a reason that you've just mentioned that on why you chose the topic of digital future of work as a challenge for the hackathon? Can you guide us a bit through the hackathon? So how did that go? And also, what are the outcomes of that? I'm really interested to hear.
Roni: Oh, yeah, sure. I'd love to because it's one of the things I'm so thrilled about. And you know, when we run a hackathon or a challenge, we don't just start like that. We actually bring in as many of our ecosystem that we can. So we brought in different organizations that are part of our ecosystems, including clients, academic, and technology companies, and also brought in leaders from within KPMG to think about - what are the biggest challenges, and we brought up this question of, you know, how could we actually look at the digital future of work and what kind of solutions we could create. So we were focusing on solutions. And the nice thing about it is first of all, through that innovation platform that we have, we are able to tap into people in multiple jurisdictions and different places around the globe. So bringing really different mindsets was great because we had teams from five or seven countries, including Australia, the US, the UK and so on, all across the globe. So that's one thing, and we were able to build these teams so that they would work together from the different organizations that participated in our hackathon. We had the ideas submitted, and we really looked at them and assessed them. But most of all, we wanted to drive into a solution. So we ran two days of an actual hackathon with deep dive sessions into how you build solutions, open innovation, and thinking about ways to help them figure out how to create a solution together, and we had a team of subject-matter experts that were there to support them. We came out with amazing ideas. And the outcome of this is that three of these ideas that we've actually invested in, and some of them, we've co-invested together with the different parts of our ecosystem to build the solution that will tackle the digital future of work. And one of them is like, you know, as far as going into the metaverse and building spaces in a unique way. What is really tackling is a digital solution to tackle the gap between what people offer workplaces and what workplaces need and how to bridge that gap. And another way is really just about working virtually and in virtual places and how to make that more engaging.
Chris: Yeah, and I think that is a really impressive outcome. The actual time invested was more than just those two days at the hackathon because of the preparation work. But really, having not only ideas but also concrete solutions at hand, we can say - okay, now this is what we want to tap into, let's invest a little bit here and there, and then go on and really build a solution for needs we see emerging, or maybe others don't feel that need yet, but they could be unmet, and we try to meet them with our solutions. So I guess that's pretty impressive for that short amount of time you invested there.
Roni: We're really happy with the outcomes, and we're actually getting all the teams to go through this joint workshop to share lessons because we become so much smarter when we actually think about what went well, what didn't work well, and how we could innovate and co-create even better.
Chris: And you did that physically, right? So you met but also had digital obviously for people from all the other countries who also immersed into that process.
Upcoming KPMG innovation efforts
Chris: All right. So what's next for KPMG's innovation efforts? What can we expect to see and also hear from you soon?
Roni: Well, first of all, let me say, any kind of challenge that the market is dealing with, will be there. So part of what we do around innovation is look at market challenges. We will run through some of these ideation, hackathons, and co-creation sessions with clients as we continue forward and always try to tackle the hottest topics and the things that really are the biggest challenges for organizations. So co-creation, co-ideation is one very significant part, which we're going to continue to do, and the content of that will obviously change as we look into different sectors and different areas of the industry. Another big thing that we're looking at is obviously, Metaphors. I think there's no organization worldwide that hasn't taken a look at that. And obviously, there are a lot of influences and a lot of impact on different sectors and different markets as well. So that's something that we're really looking into, and we've built some solutions. We've also created KPMG on the metaphors for different member firms around the globe. And so that's definitely something that we're going to look at. One of the ways that we're going to do that is through really bringing the ability of our own people and of our clients to learn more and understand more of how this affects and influences them. And we will continue to look at new technologies in the horizons. Not just the technologies of today, but also, you know, horizons two and three - what's going to come out in the next five and ten years. So we're looking at some interesting stuff as well. AI still has so much to offer, and it's going to affect our lives in so many ways. But, you know, in order to create more computing ability, we're also looking at Quantum Computing, experimenting with that, and really looking at the different ways that technology is going to change business and life.
Chris: So there is a lot to explore and a lot to be done in the next few years. Great to hear that. Now, if you try to summarize what we heard today, what would you say? What are the three key actionable recommendations that you want listeners to take away from this episode with you?
Roni: Oh, cool. Well, I'd say first of all, if you experiment, make sure that you experiment based on your appetite for experimentation. Don't go beyond those borders. And when you do, make sure to really get out of your limits and identify if you're succeeding or failing; if you fail, fail fast. That's the first thing. Second, innovation is always connected to strategy. Don't look at it as a silo thing. So really think about the organization's strategy. Look at that. If your strategy in the way that you want to execute has innovative pieces embedded in that, then that's great, and you can go on, but start with that basic thing. And I would say just around the future of work. I think the one thing that we need to understand is every individual you know, there are different things that make them happy. And I think that having an organization with happy people, with people that have fun doing what they do, that's really important. So any organization can just find a way to make life at work more engaging, more fun, and more fulfilling than make sure you do that.
“For every individual, there are different things that make them happy. Having an organization with happy people that have fun doing what they do, that’s really important.”
Chris: Yeah, that's great and perfectly summarizes. I guess what we discussed so far, and great advice, and thanks for sharing that experience. Now, finally, Ronnie, when you look back on your professional career, at least so far, what would you say? And I'm interested to hear, What would you say was your greatest Innovation Rockstar moment?
Roni: So far? Oh, wow. That's hard to pick. I have been very fortunate to have quite a few, but I would say maybe the first Global Innovation Summit that we ran at KPMG, which was around June 2021, which was amazing. And we had people from across the globe. And that was probably a Rockstar moment for me.
Chris: Yep, it sounds like a rockstar moment, if it was on a physical or virtual stage, doesn't matter. But it was on stage right, so we can count it as a rockstar moment.
Roni: Oh, yeah, it was on stage. Really, really fancy stage, by the way, very fancy studios, and it was remote, but it actually made it even more complicated.
Chris: It actually does. Yeah, I totally agree to that. So that is a great rockstar moment. Congratulations on one of those many moments. You had and will have, for sure. Yeah. And that's it for this episode. So thanks much again for being my guest on this episode. It was really a pleasure to listen to you, and thanks for sharing your experiences.
Roni: Thank you so much for having me.
Chris: And to everybody listening or watching, if you want to learn more about this topic, then simply leave us a comment on this episode or just drop us an email at email@example.com. Now that's it. Thanks for listening. Take care, and bye-bye.
About the authors
Dr. Christian Mühlroth is the host of the Innovation Rockstars podcast and CEO of ITONICS. Roni Michael is Global Head of Innovation at KPMG International.
The Innovation Rockstars podcast is a production of ITONICS, provider of the world’s leading Operating System for Innovation. Do you also have an inspiring story to tell about innovation, foresight, strategy or growth? Then shoot us a note!
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