Business barometer: fuelling the innovation process
To fuel the innovation process, you need a whole stack of ideas, some great, some just worth a try. We ask businesses how they capture the great ideas floating in and around their organisations and turn them into small steps to better business or game changing innovations.
WE ASKED THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS:
- How does your business stay in touch with the great ideas that are being knocked around among employees, customers and suppliers
- How do you motivate people to test and share their ideas
- How do you reward a great idea that has legs – or a good idea that fails, but teaches you something?
MANAGING DIRECTOR, CARDNO
Cardno hosts scholarships to recognise performers who display a dedication to building a company committed to innovation and quality. Recipients can enhance skills through study and other opportunities. We also run engagement surveys to gather comments and suggestions, which are often incorporated back into the business. We have strong relationships with customers and suppliers and seek their feedback.
We believe it is important to encourage and reward innovation. We offer an employee share ownership scheme. We also have a performance equity plan for senior employees. We hold regular global and regional conferences where we examine how to improve collaboration and tap into the employees’ wealth of skills and experience.
Cardno advocates calculated and measured risk-taking and encourages this among our staff. The challenge is to get the balance right between taking calculated risks after research, and weighing up every possibility, versus the return that can be achieved through taking that risk.
FOUNDER & MANAGING DIRECTOR, ROCKCOTE
In Rockcote’s experience, listening and learning are the answer. What I have found to be most useful is to ‘walk the floor’. We have a daily stand-up meeting with our management team (those who work remotely phone in) and the subject is basically the same each day – “What’s up?”
We are always listening to our staff, customers, tradespeople and suppliers. This approach fosters an ongoing culture of learning and innovation, with this information being collected by our ‘frontline’ staff, such as our sales teams. It is then collated and fed into weekly management meetings.
Innovative thinking is embedded into Rockcote’s company DNA. We live by the maxim ‘Reseek and develop’. By embracing ancient knowledge and traditional skills, mimicking Mother Nature’s processes, being judicious with modern science and technology, reviving the use of natural materials and keeping our eyes on the prize of creating naturally beautiful buildings, we motivate creative thinking and do things better and differently by default. Innovation, like excellence, presents its own rewards.
MANAGING DIRECTOR & FOUNDER, DWYER PROPERTY INVESTMENTS
We hold regular meetings in and out of the office and encourage employees to come up with ideas as to how to improve things. Every now and then a great idea comes up that if presented correctly can be implemented and benefit employees and suppliers and improve customer satisfaction.
I get everyone at the company to answer simple, short monthly questionnaires on a wide range of issues. One month may be self assessment, the next feelings about management and work flow, then new ideas to improve things. I try to ensure that the focus is to be better not just different.
As long as the idea has sound merits and has been thought through then yes, we reward risk takers. Obviously the better the innovation delivers, the better the reward!!
CEO, CARTER NEWELL LAWYERS
Carter Newell’s culture gives staff ’permission’ to contribute. We have open door policies and respect ideas and suggestions from staff by exploring them and welcoming the contribution. Our entrepreneurial culture extends to clients and suppliers, and relies on a professional respect for the contribution of all.
The key here is making it easy for staff to provide input, and when they do, that they can see their ideas being reviewed, dealt with and actioned. Programs such as Better@CN are aimed at gathering suggestions, both in major changes and the little things that make a difference to clients. Feedback of all types is captured in our Feedback@CN program and is dissipated across the firm. Changes@CN provides the mechanism to capture innovation, or to review or change a process.
Carter Newell encourages staff to learn from outcomes. However, there is no compromise on anything that would endanger legal excellence and client service. Risks are managed to ensure sound legal advice is provided, as well as from a business or commercial risk perspective. Initiatives have to be well scoped and fully developed.
CFO, FLIGHT CENTRE
It’s important to have the right environment to hear the great ideas, and experiment with them. Our business is decentralised, and local teams can try new ideas as they control their own profit and loss. A recent example is three Flight Centre employees who participated in a travel hackathon at Sydney THack and took top prize for a travel app, ‘What Now?’. We supported their effort with some time off work. The app has been grasped by leadership and we are looking to commercialise it.
Each year we run a global Dragon’s Den event. Employees submit business ideas. The entries are culled to a shortlist of 15 to be presented to the leadership group. Three ideas are invited to our annual global gathering. All three ideas receive seed capital to trial their concept.
The Dragon’s Den winner receives two business class, round-the-world airfares. But the most powerful rewards are recognition from peers and a positive impact on career progression.
MANAGING PARTNER, GRANT THORNTON
We encourage our people and clients to give honest feedback. The importance of creating a genuinely dynamic, collaborative and, of course, innovative workspace was fundamental in our recent office move. Sharing ideas and hearing ideas from staff and clients is vital. We constantly ask ourselves: “how innovative is our approach?”. We encourage colleagues to share ideas using a diverse range of technology-leveraging media as well as good, old-fashioned social interaction.
Cultural change is one of the biggest challenges business can face. In the 21st century, establishing greater staff engagement and allowing the thawing of talent and ideas from employees is going to be a game changer. Our CEO involves staff at all levels in the development of new ideas and solutions that can be applied for our business and to our clients. Our innovation competition recently saw the three final teams prepare a video showcasing their ideas for improving the Grant Thornton experience.
Our industry traditionally shies away from risk taking. However, our focus is to encourage innovative thinking. There is no necessity to produce an ‘end result’. The payoff is an engaged, dynamic and innovative organisation that is able to unlock potential for growth in our clients by applying the same thinking.
DIRECTOR, UQ CENTRE FOR COAL SEAM GAS
We workshop with university researchers, the regulator and industry, which ensures research needs are understood. Professorial chairs coordinate with researcher groups to identify and mature ideas to meet these needs. They then sponsor scoping papers and proposals. We also have an open process, whereby researchers from any sphere can present ideas. Seed funding can be made available to write up these ideas for input to advisory groups and the Director. We have collaborative meetings on key areas with other research institutes to co-develop ideas and joint proposals.
The Centre for Coal Seam Gas (CCSG) is a virtual centre. The majority of research programs are conducted elsewhere. Our programs are built around defined sector needs and demand a multi-disciplinary approach and skills sharing. We are also looking at ways to enhance sharing across external research institutions; for example, the Gas Fields Social Science Network, which meets regularly to share concerns and to project ideas across institutes. We hope to extend this model into other areas.
We have a filter, or stage-gate, process. Not all early-stage research ideas mature to full proposals. This may be because similar work is done elsewhere, or additional work highlights flaws in the concepts, or because of excessive complexity. The Centre’s process allows for funding for early-stage discovery and scoping. Funding is not contingent on coming up with an idea that is known in advance to be successful. This is because a clear rationale for why something looked good but is now not thought viable is in itself a useful result.
HEAD OF INSTITUTIONAL, CORPORATE & COMMERCIAL SALES QLD AND NT, GLOBAL MARKETS, ANZ
ANZ harvests innovative ideas from internal and external surveys with customers and employees as well as by talking to our customers about their business. We encourage staff to understand customer needs, by creating opportunities to listen closely and identify the products and services they require. We source ideas based on customer needs, market and technology trends.
The ANZ CEO Recognition Award is designed to reward staff who exceed expectations and help build a performance culture. Career development opportunities across business units and geographies foster collaboration, diversity of thought and idea generation.
Quantum leaps in learning, inventing new products and solving problems requires risk taking. This provides a means of learning and an opportunity to adopt improvements and enhancements. The key is to learn from mistakes and to keep focused on the end goal.
MANAGING DIRECTOR, WELLINGTON CAPITAL LIMITED
I have always believed that you should employ people who are more talented than you are. Wellington Capital is an organisation where the views of all are heard, and our strategic planning sessions include all staff. Nothing gives me more pleasure than watching a junior member of staff grow and take on additional responsibilities and a promoted position within our organisation.
Wellington offers generous learning and development frameworks and the ability for internal promotion. Our organisational culture is based on the FISH! Philosophy – it is about empowering people to do their best and recognising their achievements in a positive way.
Every failure is without question a learning experience. The best innovations in history were generally not achieved on the first attempt. New ideas are encouraged and celebrated at Wellington. One of my favourite quotes is from Teddy Roosevelt, referring to the person who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again. ‘I truly believe that there is no effort without error or shortcoming.’ It is a quote that we use often at Wellington, and it reflects Wellington’s military heritage embodied in our logo – the rampant lion.
CEO, QUEENSLAND PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE
The key to generating ideas is creating the right environment. At QPAC we are a learning organisation – creating systems and a culture where staff are encouraged to reach their potential. A learning organisation is also about sharing expertise and knowledge.
We have taken a number of steps to break down the barriers to the flow of ideas and communication, and we are expanding this in new ways. QPAC is in the midst of a new strategic planning process that is using crossorganisational teams to develop our most important strategies and goals for the next four years.
QPAC supports risk taking with rigour in the analysis around our ideas and decisions to ensure the best chance of success. A good project will get support. Returns don’t have to be financial; we look for social, cultural and intellectual returns as well. Our digital area teams use the test-and-learn philosophy, allowing our staff to try out new ideas. We capture the learning and use it to build future initiative.
CEO & MANAGING DIRECTOR, DOMINO’S PIZZA ENTERPRISES
We are known for our innovation in technology – more than half of our online orders are via mobile and we have close to a million Facebook followers. But what we serve, how we prepare it and serve the customer are also areas of constant innovation. We encourage new ideas everywhere across the business: technology, customer service, shop design as well as in the kitchen.
We offer rewards – for example, there is a $1,500 prize for new pizza ideas that make it on to the menu. And we go to our customers. In 2012 we ran a competition to create ‘the social pizza’, with Facebook fans voting on a topping or sauce every day for a week, and a $1,000 prize awarded at the end of the week for naming the pizza. Our 5th best selling pizza was also an idea dreamt up on social media and posted to our page.
We listen to all feedback and learn – whether it is from staff or via social media. We can respond fast and make changes rapidly.
OWNER, DELLO MANO LUXURY CHOCOLATES
Great ideas come from everywhere, at anytime, so we are always ready to act on them. We have a no politics culture. We strive for team play, with the mantra to find solutions, not propagate problems. Anyone in our business can, and does, make suggestions – this extends to our parents (Dello Mano Grandparents), our children, clients, part-time and full-time team members. We believe that striving to think, be creative and solve problems are great for Dello Mano and all of our people.
Formal programs suggest that innovation is separate to the rest of the business. We believe in a culture of communication, positivity and team play. We promote inclusiveness so everyone feels part of, and a contributor to, the bigger picture. We are specific with recruitment, looking for people who have a big picture approach regardless of their intended role. Dello Mano was founded on innovation, and we continually try new things and see what sticks. If it doesn’t stick, we take lessons. We know the personal pressure of putting out new ideas so we are empathetic, open about our own ‘lessons’ and encourage everyone to be the same.
Our reward is a sense of belonging to and contributing to the bigger picture, an opportunity to learn, a sense of respect and always feeling supported. Having started with a background in New Product Development we definitely never judge or punish ideas, and if they fail we view it as an opportunity to learn.
FOUNDER, SARINA RUSSO GROUP
We believe disruption harvests ideas and opportunities, which prepares us for the uncertainty to come. To foster great ideas you must love and enjoy disruption and make it part of your business journey for yourself, your staff and your partners.
We’re great believers in providing opportunities for staff to re-engineer their thinking through learning. Executive team members have studied at Harvard Business School, and all staff are eligible for a 50 per cent subsidy to study an MBA at James Cook University. We encourage attending industry forums, upskilling in technology and motivating the mind and spirit through psychologist Anthony Robbins. We reward performance unstintingly and acknowledge and recognise individual performances with warm and enthusiastic praise.
Your staff must have the power and the responsibility to make decisions and to recover quickly from mistakes. The force which gives them this power and responsibility is your leadership. You must: 1. Establish a sense of urgency; 2. Spell out your vision; Empower your people – remove obstacles; 4. Encourage risk taking; 5. Generate shortterm wins; 6. Consolidate gains and produce more change.
CEO, RIVERCITY MOTORWAY GROUP
We don’t restrict innovation to ‘great ideas’, but promote a culture of value-creating outcomes, which often arise from incremental ideas to improve existing processes. Staff talk in terms of finding minutes or breaking chairs as a framework to solve problems: Finding Minutes’, for example, asks how do we simplify our call centre processes so there is more time to answer more calls with existing resources. ‘Breaking legs off chairs’ is about relieving temporary blockage by re-organising resources – we break the leg off one chair and use it to prop up another.
STAR is a quarterly awards program to reward innovation and give annual performance incentives for all staff. Awards include recognition, cash bonuses and gift vouchers.
We encourage people to be decisive and to back their own judgment. Taking the decision to do something rather than nothing creates opportunity.
MANAGING DIRECTOR, ONTHEGO
At OnTheGo we believe in creating a culture where all feedback and freedom of opinion is heard. Our staff constantly use our products and do regular product insight tests. We take customer criticism of our products and services seriously and build on feedback. We also go to places where our products are being used and ask for feedback without letting on we are from the company. In addition we host trial days for products where we invite our athletes, suppliers, customers and staff to give feedback.
We have rewards and incentives around innovation in the current product line, or in new product ranges or markets, gauging insight from mentors and advisors. Weekly one-on-one sessions are also conducted with management where we have a large focus on ‘the areas we suck at’.
We have a culture of ‘dare to be different’, ‘never settle with too good’ and ‘never fail to learn’ which gives staff confidence to take a bold approach.
CEO, SOUTH BANK CORPORATION
We foster a culture of respect and encourage open, innovative thinking. No idea is too small or too large. Our vision is to be the world’s best urban precinct. To achieve this we need to embrace projects that define the leading edge culture of the organisation. We have a range of communication lines for employees, customers and suppliers to ensure all great ideas make it to the right people.
Encouraging and motivating staff to share and innovate is inherent at South Bank. Each project team consists of individuals from all disciplines and organisational levels. Recognising the skills of the whole team, harvesting and nurturing all ideas is vital. Smaller ideas may add flair and finesse to already outstanding projects. Our EarthCheck certification is a prime example, with all levels represented, issues resolved collaboratively and success celebrated openly. We recognise innovators and over-achievers with the monthly Bougainvillea Awards.
Innovation across urban design, profitable commercial investments and operations inherently involves a level of risk. Imagineers and risk takers are our gene pool for the future. Innovative projects such as Rain Bank, a stormwater harvesting and reuse centre in South Bank, is a prime example.
CEO, STATE LIBRARY OF QUEENSLAND
Ideas are the DNA of libraries. We use ‘The Art of Hosting’ approaches, such as the World café technique, where I host conversations. As CEO I talk about an issue, and listen. We encourage staff to convene presentations on work and ideas. We model a culture of listening and openness.
We established The Edge as a centre for digital creativity. It is an incubator of ideas and approaches. We learn from the staff and clients how to do things in the digital space. Our Asia Pacific Design Library engages with the design professions (architecture, industrial design) and has created a design community centred on the library. From this has emerged the ‘design thinking’ approach, another way for us to generate and share ideas.
I believe that even good ideas can be ‘born ugly’ and that we can nurture them to see how they turn out. We cultivate a ‘reflective’ culture and apply a ‘learning cycle’ to assess and review projects and programs.