It’s funny how one nagging little problem at work – viewed in the right light – can become the seed of an idea worth sharing.
And it’s amazing how that little seed – given the right amount of respect and attention – can spark innovation that benefits an entire company. And if you plant enough seeds across your company, you can build a better work environment, stronger relationships, enthusiasm, engagement and innovation – from the ground up.
It was this shared belief that sparked an impromptu conversation between Helga Reidel, the President and CEO of ENWIN Utilities Ltd., Adam Frye, the Director of Business Innovation at WEtech Alliance and Dr. Irek Kusmierczyk, Director of Partnerships at WEtech, during a chance meeting in early 2018.
They talked about creativity, about tapping into the knowledge and passion of employees, and about building resiliency and sustainability by transforming front-line staff
into engines of innovation.
“It was an informative and thought-provoking conversation,” said Frye,“ between a utility known for innovation and partnership, and a Regional Innovation Centre dedicated to promoting both.”
“We learned that our corporate goals converged in a very strategic way,” echoed Kusmierczyk. “ENWIN was looking for ways to develop employee potential, internal idea sharing and innovative thinking and WEtech had just received a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to fund a new program – Innovation Catalyst – designed to encourage innovation by connecting front-line staff with executives.”
In that moment, the seed was planted for a year-long partnership to teach design thinking, innovation skills and a valuable lesson about allowing voices to be heard. “It was an incredible coincidence,” said Reidel. “Some very talented people at ENWIN had just shared their unique ideas on engaging employees as innovators, and then I ran into Adam and Irek. The timing was amazing, and we couldn’t wait to get started.”
The talented people – Barry Leavitt, Director Shared Services; Rosana Kemsley, Manager Human Resources Services; and Dragan Savic, Manager Project Management Office – took on the role of Innovation Leads, working with Frye, to inspire, recruit, guide and sustain 15 employee Catalysts, from departments across the company. They named the project ENnovation – a play on ENWIN and the Innovation Catalyst program name.
“We trained the Catalysts in customer-centric design thinking and innovative solutions,” said Leavitt. “Then it was their job to go out into the company and assess opportunities for change.”
In the process, they learned to identify issues, develop and refine problem statements, test and validate solutions and build solid business cases around their innovative ideas. “At first, I wondered what I had signed on for and how I could get out of it,” admitted ENWIN’s Justin Pulleyblank, Supervisor Water Distribution and a volunteer Catalyst. “It was a lot to learn, and a lot of responsibility, on top of our everyday work.” But, for Justin and the other catalysts, the experience gave more than it asked.
“I learned so much,” said Justin. “I crossed the line between my department and others, to work with people I would never otherwise have met. I learned that my little issue is also an issue for others elsewhere in the company, and worth addressing.” In the end, the Catalysts gained the skills and opportunity to pitch their concepts to the executive team and a chance to see their ideas supported by the company.
Justin is thankful.
“I think differently now,” he concluded. “This training and experience is a gift that will help me throughout my career.”
The Catalysts brought forward eight strong, viable business ideas, which are now in varying stages of implementation. ENWIN’s CEO says the value extends beyond the obvious.
“We were very impressed with the quality of our employees’ presentations and business cases,” Reidel said. “But I was most proud of the level of teamwork across departments. This was truly a demonstration of the power of partnership to effect corporate change. We are grateful to WEtech for this experience.”
WEtech Alliance returns the praise.
“We chose ENWIN as our first partner because we knew them to be an innovative company,” Kusmierczyk concluded.“But none of us knew at the outset, exactly what this would become. Because of the Leaders and Catalysts at ENWIN, our first Innovation Catalyst class has succeeded beyond all expectation.”
So, this is how an idea, spontaneously shared, becomes the seed that grows innovation and proves the value of giving voice to front-line concerns. “This partnership isn’t over,” predicted Reidel. “The next ENnovation Catalyst class is about to begin.”