An Interview with Paul Sywulych — Innovator at Morneau Shepell

Every month we will be featuring forward-thinking Innovators who will share their stories, discuss what innovation means at their company, and provide us with insights into what they are doing to help transform the organization and the ecosystem around them.

Originally written and published by Ron Kunitzky.

I recently had the opportunity to interview someone that I’ve gotten to know pretty well over this past year; Paul Sywulych — Innovator @ Morneau Shepell. Paul is based in Toronto, Canada and part of a team that is shaping the future of Health & Benefits programs.

1. Tell us about yourself… who are you and what do you do at Morneau Shepell?

I’m the Partner of our Enterprise Innovation team here at Morneau Shepell. I’ve been with the organization for 23 years, and have held many roles during that time in our consulting, administrative solutions, IT, and solution architecture teams. I’m originally from Vancouver and came to Toronto in 1997 for a four-month project when we were building our administrative solutions practice around our first benefits outsourcing clients. Four months became a year, and there was too much excitement with what we were building here to go back home. I’m married with a 5-year-old daughter and enjoy spending time with my family & exploring all that Ontario has to offer outside of the workplace.

2. What does ‘Enterprise Innovation’ mean at Morneau Shepell?

Our organization grew to what it is today through the drive and energy of great entrepreneurs, and one of the key tenants of our value system here is to continue our Innovative & Entrepreneurial spirit. We have four key lines of business — Consulting, Administrative Solutions, Employee Support Solutions, and Absence Management Solutions. Each line of business builds & drives their own innovative programming, as the insights & prioritization process requires a deep understanding of the unique value drivers for those businesses.

Our Enterprise Innovation team focuses on uncovering & solving for needs which are applicable across two or more businesses, and where the breadth of our capabilities enable the organization to build new products & solutions for our clients. We’re a lean & nimble team, so we bring in subject matter experts from within the lines of business & in our technology team as we explore solutions in key opportunity spaces identified by our executive. Our current focus is on leveraging Big Data & advanced technologies such as cognitive computing & artificial intelligence to better support the needs of people within organizations to maximize the health and longevity of the employee-employer relationship.

In addition to new product development, we help foster the culture of innovation at Morneau Shepell by aligning with the Innovation Champions within the various lines of business to explore approaches to innovation & agility that help the organization advance new ideas in a nimble, client-centric fashion. We’ve embraced the methodologies of Design Thinking & Lean Start-up, and are collaborating with organizations such as Highline Beta and Communitech to optimize our approach to innovation, and to effectively plug into the start-up ecosystem. Finally, we’re the caretaker of Inspire, our enterprise-wide idea-management platform which we leverage to tap the collective creativity of our employees to explore solutions to prioritized challenges & opportunities.

3. You’ve been with the organization for quite some time and have achieved quite a bit — what would you say is your single greatest achievement as it relates to innovation?

We’ve seen great success in a number of new products & solutions in the past several years. If I need to point to one key achievement, I think I have to go back to where I first realized I was wired to be an intrapreneur. When we entered the benefits outsourcing space, we partnered with two clients to build our solution out & with a fairly short window for implementation. As the process & platform requirements were new for us, I learned quickly how to interview people, map processes, define system requirements, work with developers, configure a system that was being developed ‘in flight’, and build out some of the interface & reporting requirements of our solution. I was much younger at the time, and recall many sleepless nights as we were pushing hard to meet our timelines while making our best effort to solve for what we hadn’t experienced first-hand at the time. The pace was extreme, but we had confidence we would get there, and this helped me realize that I’m wired to play in areas ambiguity & pioneer solutions that fit.

4. What in your opinion should large companies do in order to leverage external innovation activities to their benefit?

The pace of innovation in the start-up ecosystem is threatening to many organizations — many live in fear of disruption and set-up their own innovation labs or create outposts within the innovation hubs & accelerators to try to copy the behaviors of the start-up. I think there’s great value in plugging into the start-up community to build the right type of sensing mechanisms, but think we need to look at this as a way to augment internal innovation efforts vs. as a way to detect and react to new solutions and business models that could threaten incumbent businesses.

I like the concept of publishing one’s own innovation agenda & inviting start-ups to participate in solving problems — either explicitly or by finding areas of synergy and finding ways to influence the direction of the start-up, which benefits in kind by finding a partner to help them scale up to a sustainable business. Of course there needs to be a balance of power in the equation — most incumbents need to keep some level of control & want to ensure they have a way to participate in the up-side success of the start-up — but I think we need to find better models to allow organizations to advance their innovation agenda by outsourcing a part of it to the lean start-ups that operate outside the incumbent’s organizational boundaries.