Our recent series on implementing innovative ideas within electric utilities has focused primarily on updating management best practices to encourage innovative thinking. We’ve covered many topics, including: the types of employees likely to help or hinder innovation, changes within electric utilities’ working culture that will foster innovation, and specific recommendations on how to implement innovative ideas once they have been formulated. We’ve also explored the reasons behind our push for innovation in electric utilities, which include climate change, increased renewable energy resources, and threats to grid security.
In this article, we provide a vital piece of the puzzle: a plan to assess innovative ideas and move them from the idea stage to implementation. To do this, managers should establish a set of recurring monthly meetings with specific agendas and predetermined attendees. Let’s dive into how managers can encourage innovation, even in a busy work environment.
Innovation Requires Time
For employees to think innovatively, managers must allow time for their staff to push boundaries and explore new ideas. Managers should aim to allow each employee to devote at least 20 hours per year to activities that encourage creative thinking, including researching the latest industry trends, experimenting with new concepts, and refining innovative ideas.
Most new ideas will need time to be refined and improved before they can be implemented. Smaller changes to working groups or units may be honed and implemented in far less than 20 hours, while larger departmental, corporate, or industry-wide changes may require much more time to refine before they can be implemented.
In most office environments, critical work activities take precedence over new ideas. And for good reason: critical work must be accomplished in a timely manner to maintain grid reliability and customer satisfaction. However, this can make it difficult to allow time for innovation.
Establish Routine Innovation Meetings
Managers should establish set meetings that occur at the same time each month to check in about the status of proposed innovations. Establishing three recurring meetings per month can help achieve this. Meetings should be as follows:
Day 1: Spearhead Innovation – Employees with new ideas propose their innovations to the entire working group on the first working day of every month.
Day 7: Manager <> Innovation Leader Status Check-in – Those working on an authorized innovation provide status updates to their manager on the seventh working day of each month.
Day 15: Team Status Update – Employees attend a team-wide innovation status meeting on the fifteenth working day of each month.
When the first working day of the next month occurs, the cycle repeats. Meetings should be brief, only 30 minutes. By following a set schedule, employees will routinely prepare their pitches or status updates.
Let’s take a closer look at what each of these meetings might entail.
Day 1: Spearhead Innovation
On the first working day of each month, a 30 minute mid-morning meeting should be convened to discuss industry trends and new ideas. Innovative thinkers will provide ideas to increase productivity, increase profitability, reduce costs, reduce maintenance, or stabilize processing.
In any given year, a work group may identify one hundred good ideas, which they narrow down to ten ideas that could be implemented. These ideas will be authorized for further pursuit, with findings to be discussed during the Day 7 meeting. All other ideas will be stored in the recommended innovations list for future reference.
Day 7: Manager <> Innovation Leader Status Check-in
On the seventh working day of each month, a 30-minute meeting should be convened to discuss and update the status of ideas authorized for further pursuit. These meetings should include only the team manager and innovation leaders who are working on specific projects.
In any given month, it is likely that 2-3 innovative ideas will be authorized for development. Ideas that are moving forward will continue to be supported. Innovation leaders will be encouraged to further their research until the idea has reached a point of implementation. If any idea has shown little progress or been inactive for 60 days or more, the idea should be returned to the recommended innovations list with an inactive status.
Manager <> Innovation Leader Status Check-in meetings should have a specific agenda with set time limits. Each innovative idea will be discussed in the order presented on the agenda. Managers will keep discussion on topic and ensure that participants share their status update in the allotted time. By enforcing an agenda and time limits, teams will not spend more than 6 hours per year in these check-in style meetings.
Day 15: Team Status Update
On the fifteen working day of each month, innovation leaders should provide updates on their projects to the entire team. Each update should be a fact focused, one page PowerPoint slide that summarizes costs, schedule, items to note, obstacles to overcome, and any next steps. For example:
Managers should be sure to ask participating employees if the authorized innovation is on track. They may ask questions such as, is the anticipated completion date still accurate? Are there any blockers preventing this from happening? What can the team do to remove blockers so that this can be implemented on the target date?
Time Spent Innovating Pays Off
Of course, time will be spent refining innovations outside of these meetings. The expectation is that once an innovation is implemented, the benefits will be well worth the time and money attributed to its creation and refinement. In addition, team members who attend the first and third meetings, but are not actively involved in an innovative project, will be inspired by their coworkers to continue to look beyond their boundaries.
Innovation leads to more innovation, which in turn will create a better, more reliable electric power grid for a future full of challenges.
This article was written in collaboration with Prescient's Lead Editor Alyssa Sleva-Horine.