If you could select one tool to achieve your short-term goal of embedding technology and innovation for growth and productivity into your organization, what tool would it be? Before you answer, please note that your selection, like innovation, may allow for “smart” failures, yet may not compromise safety. In fact, improvements in Safety performance is the win-win and desired result. My selected tool for maximum results, hands down, is employees/human capital via culture and trust.
Four years ago, I took a hard left in my career to a developmental and strategic role in our Operational Strategy and Business Intelligence department. As a female Latina with 20+ years in the electrical utility industry - most of which have been in operations or construction “non-traditional” roles - this individual contributor position felt like working at a different company. Although I clearly understood the importance of strategy within my organization, operations and construction were a part of my DNA and my assimilation to the new department, life-style and pace took some time.
In 2018, that shift led me to Notre Dame’s Certified Innovator’s Mentor program (CIMp) and the introduction to the Unified Innovation Methodology. I must admit, the shift from “Powering Lives” to “How might we…..” took some soul searching and lots of reading before I hit the “I believe” button. I do, however, trust the process and believe.
Connect the dots of Innovation via Authentic Leadership
Sharing my personal innovation journey and strategic intent can have tremendous impact on the ability to engage employees. Routinely, employees are nominated to participate in innovation sessions. While attending these innovative sessions, I share my “soul searching” moments of my personal inno-journey, and the insight becomes relatable and others begin to connect the dots to trust the process as well. Human capital must be inspired if you truly want to embed innovation into the organization.
One Size does not fit All
Customer empathy is vital when innovating. It is equally vital when defining core values and bridging the generational and cultural divide within our organization and industry. Let’s take customer engagement, for example. Long gone are the days of sending out a printed document or pamphlet as the only and an effective means of communication. In our current environment, it’s all about personalized, relevant, customized and real-time content. Innovating and bridging the generational/cultural gaps are no different. Now, let’s take the Millennial worker, where an organization’s culture, or lack thereof, is by far one of the most important aspects of retention. You’d think a challenge such as: “How might we gain insights from the parents who raised Millennials to bridge the generational divide, enhance culture and innovative growth?” This sounds like a logically structured challenge “frame”, right? Coming from a parent who raised a Millennial, I adamantly shake my head in violent disagreement. Consequently, “Framing” your challenge clearly becomes the most important step in the process of engaging your audience.
Synergies between Culture and Trust
It’s common knowledge that customers and stakeholders are loyal to brands and/or companies when they know and “trust” them. Generalized recommendations, absence of return of time and investment, does not increase participation or foster the unique or premier customer experience. To earn trust and stakeholder loyalty, their journey and feelings must be known and validated. Improved performance starts with identifying the pain points of your stakeholders, rather than elaborating on or embellishing new solutions. Stakeholders will not share their pain points without trust. This is where dusting off the “old tool” of authentic leadership and building trust becomes critical if you expect to navigate the detours on the road of continuous and consistent performance improvement. The same level of effort that organizations are investing into the external premier customer experience must be placed into the organization’s human capital/employee experience to make the vital shift from reactive to proactive, engaged and innovative.
Full Circle with an Innovative Focus
As I embark on a new role, now a Regional Electric Operations Manager, there are numerous responsibilities. None of which are more important than the Safety of employees and the public, I take with me this innovative mindset shift. What worked in the past does not work now! Innovating for the greater good involves trust, value-based communications and support to help employees reach and fulfill their potential. The foundation is a mash up of culture and trust.