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How to Effectively Implement Innovation within Electric Utilities

Last week, we outlined two changes to electric utilities’ work culture that will foster innovation: sharing the rewards of innovation with employees, and implementing innovation as a key performance indicator (KPI). These two shifts in electric utilities’ working culture will act as incentives to encourage employees to think innovatively.

Once incentives have been established, innovations must be acknowledged, and follow-through must occur in a timely manner. To acknowledge innovation, Prescient proposes broadcasting both recommended and successful innovations company wide. In addition, creating a reasonable timeline to implement innovative ideas allows follow-through to be consistent and timely.

Let’s take a closer look at these two strategies for effective implementation of innovative ideas within electric utilities. We’ll also explore a strategy for minimizing costs associated with implementing innovations.

Broadcast Innovations Company-Wide

Innovation breeds innovation. When innovative ideas are broadcast to the entire company, innovation leaders will feel a sense of pride in their work, and innovation followers will be inspired to support new ideas and developments.

Every workplace should have two types of innovation broadcasts:

1. Recommended Innovations includes a list of every recommendation logged in a searchable database that can be accessed by all employees. Once a month, the number of recommended innovations and the status of innovations should be broadcast to every team on their virtual bulletin board, like so:

2. Successful Innovations should be broadcast in the same manner as service anniversaries and promotions so that employees can celebrate the success of innovation leaders and followers in the company. Successful innovations can be classified by levels of impact, from change to the work group to industry-wide change. For example,

  • Bronze – Work Group Change

  • Silver – Unit Change

  • Gold – Department Change

  • Titanium – Corporate Change

  • Platinum – Industry Change

Turn Innovations into Functional Change

As innovations enter the development phase, timeliness is essential. The longer an innovative idea sits on the shelf, the harder it is to maintain enthusiasm. Without enthusiasm, implementation will be nearly impossible.

At this stage, it is also key to remember that “darn good” ideas should not be sidelined in favor of “perfect” ideas. No idea is perfect from the start, but over time, a darn good idea can become near perfect.

A timeline should be established for each level of innovation. For example, bronze innovations will be evaluated for implementation within thirty days. For platinum innovations, evaluation for development will take place within one year; within the next year, implementation will have begun. The person who introduces an innovative idea will act as a sponsor when the innovation is implemented.

Work Smart to Minimize Costs

Every innovation has an embedded cost, from time spent developing the idea to implementation efforts. While work group changes may cost $5,000 to implement, industry leading changes may cost $100 million or more. It is important to remember that innovation carousels should be avoided to prevent the undue expense of continuously looping on the same idea.

In addition, every change has an impact on customers and suppliers. For large scale, corporate or industry-wide changes, electric utilities would benefit from mimicking the practice of the automotive industry. Automobile designers focus on yearly model updates, and release an updated version of their cars each year. Similarly, industry-wide changes to critical infrastructure, for example, should be deferred until the next year’s infrastructure update. Because unit prices and deliveries are negotiated on an annual basis, making changes mid-year will result in a higher cost to implement.

On the other hand, small, less costly changes can be implemented throughout the year. For example, a working group change may occur at any time if it increases the team’s productivity.

Professional Development Fosters Innovation

Employees may need inspiration beyond monetary incentives, company-wide recognition, and updated KPIs to think innovatively. Every employee, from mechanic to chief executive officer, should be provided with opportunities for professional development during every working year. This includes internal and external continuing education, trade publication reviews, and focused discussions of industry changing concepts.

What Creates Successful Innovation?

The keys to creating successful innovations within any industry, and especially for electric utilities, are work culture and leadership. An updated work culture, as explored in our last post, establishes the paradigm that everyone is encouraged to innovate, and every idea is given fair consideration. Leadership that encourages innovation establishes the paradigm that workers understand concepts beyond the scope of routine work activities.

Want to learn more about Prescient’s ideas for innovative management practices for electric utilities? Contact us to schedule a training for your management team!

This article was written in collaboration with Prescient's Lead Editor Alyssa Sleva-Horine.

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