Hugo Raaijmakers (ING): “Innovation is a cornerstone, but it must be measurable”

Interview: Christel Don. Photography: Frank Poppelaars.
Editor-in-chief: Hike One. | Also available in Dutch.

Second in a series of interviews with innovation managers in Dutch corporates. Next interview is with Duncan de Vries, NIBC. Follow us and learn from their daily challenges.
Hugo Raaijmakers, Global Head of Innovation Management at ING

“I have an office somewhere around here, but I’m never in there,” smiles Hugo Raaijmakers (46) as he walks us through a futuristic tunnel that leads to the ING Customer Experience Center (ICEC). He explains that he is not really good at sitting still. As Global Head of Innovation Management, Raaijmakers can often be found in this building, for instance for coaching sessions with the dozens of internal startups established here. Raaijmakers initially seems to have an atypical profile for a banker. He studied psychology, attended the art academy while also learning to program and obtaining an MBA.

“This function merges everything that I have done in the past: it’s about people, design and technology. You need all of these perspectives to be able to innovate.”

Paradox

As a result, Raaijmakers is now on the innovation management team within the ‘Chief Innovation Office’ that manages innovation projects throughout the world on behalf of the bank. He leads a team of strategists and consultants and mostly likes to call himself a ‘change agent’– while he may manage innovation projects, he manages change above all. His official job title is rather a mouthful, and Raaijmakers readily admits that he often needs some time to explain what it is he does, especially to people outside his industry. “People see innovation as a creative and experimental thing, and management is about organized processes. While it seems contradictory, the value is precisely in that paradox.”

Two and a half years ago, Raaijmakers came to work for ING as a Global Transformation Lead. In other words, he was there to help the bank transition to a new way of working called PACE. “A combination of agile, lean startup, and design thinking”, is how he explains the method he developed with his team.

“It’s often said that startups innovate quickly, effectively and successfully while big corporates are slow and ponderous. Thanks to PACE, all bank departments now use a faster startup method that allows them to respond better to today’s high speed.”

Speed is a theme to which Raaijmakers devotes a lot of attention — something clearly communicated by the way he checks his watch unobtrusively but frequently. “I continuously think about how to make the bank even faster and more innovative — it’s always too slow for me, to be honest. I’m always asking myself how to keep the bank relevant to its customers in the future.” Any company’s biggest KPI is about learning, he explains. “The faster you learn, the more competitive your stance in the market. So I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can collaborate with startups and companies that are further along the road than we are, such as General Electric. I also track down the best experts in any given field.”

Measurable

It was in that first year with the bank that Raaijmakers realized something else quite suddenly. “I thought: oh, but then we also need to know how our innovation projects perform and make sure we set up the ‘engine room’ the right way. An organization may run an innovation lab but if it is an unconnected project, it will never become part of the company’s DNA.” So how does one achieve that? Innovation has always been a cornerstone for ING, Raaijmakers explains. “When I started working for ING, my colleagues often said that ING was an innovative bank. And they now have that system, he confirms with great enthusiasm. “It’s fantastic. We can tell with a single click what kind of innovation projects we are running globally. It also shows us who is working on which individual projects, on what kind of topics, what progress they have made and whether there is any kind of payoff. And that is what you want to know as a CEO. Innovation is a cornerstone but it must be measurable, too.”

Innovation as described by Raaijmakers is mainly about portfolio management and change processes, in other words. Is he still in love with the new ideas that result from them? “In the past I used to be involved in a wide variety of innovation projects as a designer — that’s what I really love. But if you want to conquer a place for innovation in a big international company, you need to make sure you’re creating the right opportunities,” Raaijmakers replies soberly. “I don’t want people to say, at some point in the future: This was fun but there’s no payoff and our shareholders are asking what’s happening with all that money, so we’re pulling the plug.”

Hundreds of projects

Raaijmakers has noticed a growing interest in innovation work within the bank in recent years. “Our accelerators and boot camps are popular and often lead to successful products that actually reach the market.” Even so, he explains, it was a real challenge at first to even define what an innovation project is. “We asked all the countries in which we have a presence to share their projects with us, and hundreds of projects were submitted.” Raaijmakers realized they needed a filter, so these days they work with McKinsey’s Horizons Growth Model. “This has yielded three types of innovation project, each of which requires a different approach. Funnily enough, people who experimented with PACE for innovation projects asked for permission to use it for all their other day-to-day (non-innovation) projects. And that’s exactly what innovation is all about, says Raaijmakers.

“The point is that the entire organization should become more enterprising and creative and want to use this kind of innovation tool for other things, as well.”

His weeks are never the same and everything happens at high speed. Raaijmakers currently runs a number of innovation projects in Romania and Poland (“I can’t say anything about them right now”), coaches the internal startups, contributes to deciding on the progress of the most disruptive innovation projects that occur in a separate division, and he hosted the ‘Global Innovation Council’ only last week. That council consists of people from the ING board and makes decisions on a range of innovation topics. “We aim to set the course for innovation for today and the bank’s future.”

Solving relationship problems

Being a ‘corporate troublemaker’, does he sometimes feel that he has to swim against the current to convince colleagues? “I do run into matters that are not in line with our startup operating method sometimes. Take the way managers still tend to assess the innovation projects sometimes, for instance. The traditional management method generally looks at profit and loss, which is counterproductive. So we teach managers to take a coaching stance, getting the best from people without imposing a non-validated opinion or direction. Even so, it’s difficult to let go of that old management style.” And Raaijmakers has the task of showing that it is a change well worth exploring. “The same goes for that new, agile method — not every employee is enthusiastic about giving it a try,” explains Raaijmakers. “It helps if people see that the methods and mindset we teach them make them happier employees so they can do their job even better. Take the PACE method, for instance, you can even use it to solve your relationship problems,” he says, smiling. Did he actually try it himself? He laughs out loud. “Yes I did, and believe me, it works!”


Hugo Raaijmakers

Current position: Global Head of Innovation Management at ING since January 2017.
Education (selection): Clinical Psychology at Tilburg University (1992–1996), Fontys School of Arts (1996–1999), MBA at Lemniscaat School of Management (2008–2011), PhD on Digital Transformation at VU Amsterdam (2014 to present)
Previous employers (selection): Head of Online Marketing at Vodafone (2004–2006), several positions at Philips since 2006, including Global Director Digital Innovation Consumer Sector (2012–2014).
Favorite book on innovation: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Essential gadget: iPhone
Impressive innovation: Philips Lifeline

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