25 October 2016
A company must offer enough room for its employees to develop new ideas or products. Photo:
A company must offer enough room for its employees to develop new ideas or products. Photo:

How accountants can be innovative

I have acted as the moderator for two sessions of an annual seminar organized by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). This year’s theme is “Innovation in Business”, and the two sessions were “Encouraging and enabling innovation” and “Finance – embodying and enabling intrapreneurship”.

There are different innovation models, such as Apple’s top-down approach and Google’s bottom-up approach. Also, innovators could break boundaries or pursue gradual improvement.

Wong Kam-Fai, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said there must be an appropriate culture and environment for breeding innovation. He also said the Hong Kong government is far from creative in establishing a good business environment.

Sunny Cheung Yiu-Tong, former chief executive of Octopus Cards, and Suen Yiu-Tat, a senior official at MTR Corporation, both pointed out that a company must offer enough room for its employees to develop new ideas or products aside from their regular work.

“If an employee has to work overtime every night, how could they have enough time to think about innovation?” Suen said.

Cheung said innovation needs a suitable environment.He cited the launch of the Octopus Card for senior citizens, which involves more than changing the program. It also requires cooperation among departments and adjustment of the existing operation model.

Lam Wai-Chun, founder of 759 Store, put forward a more direct solution — encouraging employees to propose innovative ideas. He said the boss should adopt a hands-off policy and let the employees lead the innovation drive.

Simply speaking, unleashing the potential of employees is the key for business innovation. The employer should work on creating a comfortable environment and supportive company culture.

Chung Chi-Ping, co-founder of Techtronic Industries Co. Ltd., brought up the concept of “intrapreneur”, which is the practice of a corporate management style that integrates risk-taking and innovation approaches, as well as reward and motivational techniques, that are more traditionally thought of as being the province of entrepreneurship.

“Intrapreneurs are those who do not follow rules and focus on new products, services and systems while being offered sufficient freedom and financial resources,” Chung said, adding that “no boss would like employees who do not follow rules”.

Szeto Wing-fu, general manager of Hung Fook Tong Group, said accountants should not only report “dead figures” to the boss. Instead, they should explain the underlying reasons and even offer viable solutions to resolve an issue.

I agree with what he said. The other day I got an email from an employee with an Excel spreadsheet attached but has nothing in the content box. I got no idea how I should respond to the email. Was he requesting me to make a financial decision or give him an advice?

“Financial staff are always well-behaved, but sometimes, they need to think out of the box and think ahead,” Tencent chief financial officer John Lo said.

Horace Ma Chun-fung is the writer of this article, which appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 29.

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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