The Innovation process needs to embed a culture of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). Those organizations that truly incorporate D&I as part of their Innovation culture will benefit and have a broader and stronger innovation foundation with better results.
Just as Diversity and Inclusion has been ingrained in successful companies as part of the corporate culture, Innovation must develop as a core competency and become part of the corporate culture. In fact, since Innovation requires diverse thinking, it must inherently have Diversity and Inclusion within its foundation.
Historically, much of the corporate innovation work took place in either the Research & Development (R&D) department for internal projects or in the Investment Strategy group, looking at external products and programs. The work was dominated by Engineers in R&D and Financial Analysts in the Investment Strategy group, resulting in ideas bound by the organization’s long-standing orthodoxies, as opposed to ones looking in new directions with a different perspective. This constraint produced ideas that were slow-moving and adaptive, rather than positively disruptive with new growth potential.
As a 20-year veteran within the utility industry, I have experienced the positive and dynamic expansion of the corporate culture to include Diversity & Inclusion. Safety and Reliability was the core of the industry, then Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) became embedded in the culture. Meetings routinely began with a Safety and D&I message. As the market is dramatically evolving with the rapidly changing world with instant messaging and 24/7 access for just about everything, D&I is at the forefront. Companies and their employees are reflecting the diverse population of the communities that they serve.
The convergence of the latest “I” to dominate and contribute within businesses is Innovation. Together with D&I, Innovation is necessary to keep our companies viable and poised for survival and growth. It is critical to tap a wide variety of employees for their technical expertise and individual insight. For example, it is absolutely energizing to see younger employees interacting feverishly with long-tenured employees to develop innovative ideas for the short term and ever-increasingly for the long-term projects.
At PECO, we are working to make innovation a core competency throughout the organization with an innovation portal, open to all employees to input their ideas. Employees are assigned within each department to assist with the idea development; there are regular meetings with senior leadership to review and approve funding for promising ideas. As a result, there have been hundreds of ideas generated from employees across the organization. Ideas have been successfully implemented by people in the field and in the back office. These ideas that have been identified and developed by diverse employees have brought changes that created both employee and customer satisfaction. As a result, diverse groups of employees feel that they can be included in the innovation process and make an impact on meeting the company goals.
As part of the evolution, we are incorporating the company-wide innovation process with challenges that address specific business uses. In addition, we are incorporating the Unifying Innovation Methodology taught as part of the Certified Innovation Mentor program (CIMp) at the University of Notre Dame. Employees who have completed the program are leading innovation sessions with various groups across the organization to address business concerns. As a result, the Innovation process is maturing from a group of people identifying a problem and implementing a solution to a more robust process that includes Framing, Discovery, Ideation, Elaboration (prototyping) and finally launching (implementing) the solution.
To answer a corporate call to develop ideas that could impact the future of our parent company, a PECO colleague tapped the diversity of innovative thinking within 3 key employee groups. He utilized the tools learned from the CIMp to solicit and develop ideas for the corporate challenge. Three different employee groups, each with unique characteristics, backgrounds and experience, independently framed the issue, developed insights, concepts and potential opportunities. Members of each group then met and converged their ideation results to develop a unified concept board with potential innovation solutions to pursue. As a result of this process, a much more robust set of potential opportunities was developed and a diverse group of employees from throughout the company feel included in the innovation process and will continue to be involved.
PECO will continue to include innovation process training as part of the career development education. Employees will be encouraged to complete training progressing from introductory to basic education and up to advanced education. Simultaneously, there will be more targeted campaigns to address specific business issues. The breadth and diversity of employees actively included in the innovation process is expected to expand significantly. Innovation is steadily evolving to include diversity and inclusion and impact the innovation process as a core competency. The ultimate goal is to use Diversity & Inclusion and Innovation as key tools to remain successful into the future.