In our fast-passed world does everyone have time to Innovate? How many times has there been an epiphany and a thought like 'wouldn't it be better if we did...'?
Launching a young Innovation program has allowed me to have various insight to both program logistics in addition to employee perception of Innovation and the heavy focus from the c-suite level. Going through the CIMp program and the University of Notre Dame has empowered me with the courage and experience to help inform leadership of opportunities around innovation and help guide ideas through a methodology in which ideas are populated and more impactful to the greater business.
Having an opportunity to hear, capture and socialize these ideas present during the Notre Dame course have been extremely impactful to our immediate business.
This article was written as one of the requirements to obtain the Innovation Mentor Certification at CIMp. The CIMp program is part of iVia, The Way of InnovationTM, founded by The University of Notre Dame, Whirlpool Corporation, and Beacon Health System. Learn more at http://innovationcertification.nd.edu/
Everyone has good ideas, rather its gaining the employees trust that bringing this idea forward will ultimately will not hurt them as an employee in the long term (more work) and that they will get recognized in some way. Gaining this trust has been extremely HARD!
Using a universal platform for all employees to submit ideas online in addition to talking through proposed ideas in person with employees (mostly field workers who don't have regular access to company computers), allow the first step of the employee engagement process to start. The next major step is helping them define the actual problem statement and scope for us specifically as a utility company.
Moving this idea into the next stage is extremely hard as the employee wants to keep the solution they originally populated exactly the same, while the various tools and methods we apply help to refine the idea and ensure this is something the business would benefit from and ultimately solve a problem. Initially using analogs and orthodoxies helps them facilitate comparisons that could be comprehended.
Why Innovate within an electric utility? Rather the question should be will the utility still be relevant to our existing customers in 30 years?
This is how I present the Innovation program to our employees, helping to set the stage for how fast passed industries are evolving and who will be at the table to. Emphasizing industry disruptors (Solar Companies, 3rd party energy providers, energy storage systems, microgrids, etc.) pose major long-term challenges for the electric utility companies, throwing business models into a unsustainable model. Having an opportunity to step back and evaluate strategic plans and how we can be part of the conversation of change with these disruptors rather blindsided by each one. The Innovation efforts are helping to provide a platform for these conversations and allow employees to eliminate barriers, assumptions and day to day logistics to think about what that long-term goal should be. The ultimate intermediate step is how do we get to the goal?
Electric utilities are one of the many companies that have Innovated around problems (physical conditions and more importantly regulatory) for many years, rather it wasn’t a formalized Innovation Program. So the concept is nothing new.
Allowing a utility to focus specifically on how to increase the efficiency and overall strategy is now a world of difference. Allowing employees to think outside the world of regulations and barriers brings ideas that otherwise would not be generated.
Culture change was tee biggest challenge! And not surprisingly at the middle management level. Upper leadership/c-suite level has great interest and promotion of the Innovation opportunities across the company. The lower employees are heavily interested and passioned to be involved. Rather the middle management who regulates day to day tasks and goals does not think at this point that there is enough time to 'Innovate'. The challenge here is aligning the strategic goal of Innovation around relevant problems within the company so it is providing value and efficiencies to groups rather additional work load.
How do we get there? Key stakeholder engagement and having successful projects is key. Stakeholders will help to guide and leverage their resources and the successful projects are something to point and see how these solutions can be successful. Also applying Innovation resources and focus on relevant problems in the company (giving priority).
Metrics are both good and bad. Good to help leverage resources for various components and to provide program performance to leadership on a regular basis. The bad is this takes time and resources away from the program output (successful projects, pilots, or even results from failures). The bad is also how do you quantitate the success of a program focused both around how employees perceive the innovation efforts in addition to the value creation due to the program. with so many variables capturing this as the entire metric result can be misinterpreted compared to the acetal program value. Moving forward, we still (and always) will have metrics to both track and report out on for program visibility. I would like to hope in the next few years some of the basic metrics (employee education, number of ideas) are engraved in both the Innovation management team and all employees, allowing focus on the valve outcome more.
I do agree that metrics are needed but it’s how the metrics are recorded and perceived without a dialog that can disrupt the overall success of the program.
Notre Dame - Certified Innovation Mentor Program
Pepco Holdings an Exelon Compnay - Technical Services - Innovation