Recognizing leaders across the globe who are forging new paths for innovation on behalf of their organizations, and through this having a positive impact on their industry and society is the main purpose of the Business Transformation 150 list, an initiative started by Constellation Research – a technology and advisory firm based in Silicon Valley. This year, in the face of a global pandemic, huge economic and social conflict, as well as unexpected changes in work environments, one of the leaders who received this important recognition was our own Afzal Jessa, Innovation Leader at Vale.
Becoming a leader in safety and reliability, working to create a new pact with society through social progress, focusing on climate change, and creating differentiated value for our clients are among the most critical priorities at Vale. To address these, Vale is implementing an Integrated Innovation framework which goes beyond focusing on specific business outcomes, is aimed at maturing the process itself and ultimately infusing innovation mindsets and foundations which will help tap within the innovation potential within Vale and assist in the cultural evolution of the company.
Why is Innovation important to Vale and how does it contribute to creating a more innovative Vale?
We, at Vale have among the best mining assets and portfolio of products in the world. And yet, looking at a number of metrics: Whether it’s safety, reliability, sustainability, community perception, growth, we need to transform from where we are today to where we want to be. Innovation is a key lever for us to achieve this transformation from how we sustain our business in the short/medium term and equally to how we remain relevant for the future. Innovation requires new ways of working, different forms of collaboration, diversity of thought and being open to new ideas. It needs us to practice open and transparent dialog to really challenge the status quo and adopt a learning mindset. And so, innovation is an important lever for the broader cultural transformation at Vale and this cultural transformation will be key to accelerating our results
How can Innovation help Vale in the quest to reduce operational risk and increase employee safety?
While we work on understanding, managing and controlling existing risk elements, ultimately we need to redesign our work in a significant way to eliminate the known and emerging risk scenarios. For example, eliminating tailings dams will give us much greater assurance around not having another incident like Brumadinho than anything we will do around managing the risk scenarios associated with dams. I recently learned from the safety team that the majority of our critical risks are associated with the MUEs (Material Unwanted Events identified in HIRA) and safety incidents (tied to RACs 1-5). If we are able to redesign these processes and eliminate these risk scenarios, we can truly and sustainably achieve our goal of 0 fatalities and N2s in our business. It will take all of us working together, with discipline and seeking out new approaches to the problems, but I have confidence in our capability to achieve it.
An important mission for Vale is to become a better “Learning Organization”. How do you think Innovation can contribute to this?
The essence of innovation is learning through an agile mindset. Innovation is practiced through artfully framing the problem and testing different solution hypothesis that may either point to different solution possibilities themselves or push us to relook at the problem itself. In other words it’s about learning through doing – trying an idea, failing, adjusting and trying again; it’s also about exploring different possibilities and learning from others; I believe this mindset will always lead us towards better solutions and that’s why you need to innovate.
How would you define the role of leadership for Innovation?
Innovation shouldn’t be centralized. The problem owners – those that are most familiar with the intricacies of the problem – need to transform the problems themselves with the partnership of others.Ultimately the business areas need to be accountable for driving the innovation agenda – for setting the business strategy, priorities and opportunities towards which we need to apply innovation. I view our role as a coordinator for creating these building blocks, for being a key influencer of change to increase the fluency and participation in the process, and really be a collaborator in the creative process. Building on this, the role of leadership for innovation is a shared responsibility among all leaders in the organization. As leaders our primary role is not having the answers, but in understanding, encouraging and supporting the application of the innovation to priority problems where we need help to change the game and inviting others to be a part of this process.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic shown companies the importance of investing more in digital solutions?
Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact in two important ways. Firstly - it has highlighted new, significant business risks we face as a company and an industry that we need to deal with differently. Secondly - for many companies, Vale included, the pandemic has accelerated a digitization journey which without this powerful catalyst would have taken much longer. It has demonstrated that some things we felt impractical, are really quite feasible and in fact needed. The pandemic has also enabled us to use technology to create and transform many processes and think differently about how we work and where this work is performed. There is no going back, and we should see this as an opportunity to create a better working environment for all employees and collaborators.
Finally, what is the importance, for you as a professional and for Vale as a company, of this recognition – the BT150 award?
We are still away from our ambition of where we want to be in terms of the innovation mindset and what we want to achieve. However there has been a lot done; we’ve delivered some building blocks that have been critical; we have some good cases of success and many lessons learned that will only spur us to go further in a determined manner. This award is an important recognition of the work done and an indication that we are on the right path to how we’re approaching this transformation journey.
About the Business Transformation 150:
BT150 recognizes the world's most influential executives from several industries, such as entertainment, financial services, healthcare, higher education, pharmaceuticals, the public sector, retail, and sports.
Check out the list of executives recognized this year
About Afzal Jessa
As CDO at Vale, he is responsible for leading the Innovation at the Global Technology Department and implement it jointly with several partner areas across Vale. Afzal joined Vale 13 years ago and has held several global roles in IT. Afzal has had diverse experience across his career holding executive positions in software and consulting firms and as founding partner of a software start-up.