According to the World Economic Forum's recent Global Information Technology Report 2009-2010, countries that decide on a knowledge based approach to economic and social development should focus their strategies on areas of distinctive strengths in order to address national challenges. The solution, according to this report, is to increase the knowledge intensity of manufacturing and the development of innovative services. The question is, how do we as business leaders make this happen from the inside out, how do we ensure that innovation, in each and every one of our organisations, is the norm and not the exception?
The O2 approach
A significant amount of research has taken place over the years to show the linkage between employee engagement and business results. So in O2, we place a huge emphasis on and invest heavily in the development of a high performance culture because we believe that people are the key to our ongoing success as a business. Even before someone joins the organisation, we put them through a rigorous hiring process to ensure that he\she possesses the qualities we feel are important to contribute to this culture. These qualities include passion and drive, collaboration, customer focus, flexibility and a 'can do' mindset.
We have a number of ways of measuring this linkage including;
- Our employee satisfaction and loyalty scores (Reflect) - which are the highest in the TEF group of companies in Europe, demonstrating that our people are motivated and engaged by their work
- Our Customer Satisfaction scores - which are are consistently high, particularly in relation to innovation ("always having the newest handsets first") and customer care ("right first time")
The best way to demonstrate how we engender an environment which empowers our people to be creative, to innovate and to do it for themselves, is by illustrating some real examples.
Ireland's first green base station was developed and deployed by two enterprising and passionate O2 engineers, Bernard Colgan and Patrick Patton. The guys, whose day job it is to deliver a first class network, wanted to explore ways of making our network 'greener' without compromising service to our customers.
For three to four months, in their own time, they conducted their research and worked on putting together the business case. When they got this far, they presented their idea to senior management who immediately saw the potential and set about giving Bernard and Patrick the support that they needed. Some of their work was delegated to other members of the team so that they could dedicate time during the course of their working day; budget was redirected to their project and a cross-functional team was put in place to bring the project to fruition.
...and so what ?
9 months later the country's first self sustaining base station in Knockaleva, Colon, Co Louth was switched on and the base station which was originally powered by diesel, is now being powered entirely by 'Green' energy from a small wind turbine and solar panels. The site operates in complete isolation from an ESB connection and by removing the requirements for a diesel generator, the site has removed 44 tonnes of CO2 emissions after less than a year in operation.
Bernard and Patrick convinced the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) to fund the project, who were so impressed with their innovation that they received the 'Pioneering Renewable Energy Project Award' from SEAI; they were also short listed for both the Chambers Ireland CSR Awards and the Green Energy Awards. In addition Bernard and Patrick's 'Green Mast' has featured in a number of media articles.
The O2 self sustaining base station could be used as a prototype not only for O2 but the entire mobile industry, revolutionising how mobile networks are powered in the future, thanks to two enterprising O2 engineers who were empowered to innovate.
You talking to me??? O2 was the first mobile phone operator in Ireland to launch an online interactive Forum, a place that customers could go to ask O2 anything, literally, and they would get an answer from real people in real time. There was nervousness initially about having to deal with issues in such a public manner but the decision was taken that to engage with customers in the new ways that they wanted and needed to be engaged with, required O2 to make a leap of faith. Yes we had some teething problems but to date no disasters, no horror stories. Quite the opposite.
We carefully picked our people internally to run with the O2 Forum. We asked them what they thought we should do and how we should do it, we empowered them to develop the service and tell us how it would work best. Now we have O2 people listening and talking to customers, being honest with them and doing their best to make their lives easier and it has been a huge success. The O2 Forum was named Best New Product / Service at the Contact Centre industry awards last year, it now operates online and via a dedicated Twitter channel - and perhaps most importantly of all it has facilitated conversations between customers directly so they can share their experiences and help each other out.
We are now taking this whole initiative a step further shortly. Instead of waiting for customers to come to us via the Forum, when new customers join our network, we will email them directly. The objective being to make sure that customers know who we are, can put a face and a name to the brand and let customers know that we are there, online, all the time, if they have any need to contact us with any questions or support they might need.
Daily thoughts, views and opinions from those just one degree away from our customers.
Everyday 14,000 people walk into our stores. 14,000 daily conversations with customers or potential customers is the kind of rich territory for innovation which many companies can only dream of. But have we been capitalising on this in terms of capturing these conversations and feeding this information to decision makers in a way that can be acted upon quickly? Are we motivating our retail employees to influence decisions, taking customers feedback and acting on it in real time? Not as much as we could.
We have now set about building a system that will be:
- easy for store staff to use
- capture information in a way that is easily digested for decision making
- quick and relatively cheap to implement.
So now retail staff send feedback directly from their mobiles to a website that filters and collates information for our marketing team to see. To keep it simple, we are using a system that captures information sent by text message and converts this to a webpage report.
Retail staff get some interesting feedback or a gem of an idea from a customer in a store. They send a text message there and then from their mobiles and this information is captured, collated and categorised into a simple easy-to-read report. We can see who is sending in the ideas, we can see where they are coming from, is there a trend appearing regionally or nationally? Empowering our people who are close to our customers all day every day, who best understand their needs, is the best way to innovate.
We can also turn this around and use this system to put questions to our customers, by asking our Retail agents to ask a certain question, either by store, by region or nationally. The retail agents will text the answer back where again the system captures, collates and categorises the information into a simple easy-to-read report. This presents us with huge opportunities to innovate based on real information, in real time from real people who matter most to us - our customers.
The examples I've given you - the green base station and the proactive contact with customers demonstrate how we at O2 make a conscious effort to create an environment that supports and encourages innovation - so that innovation is part of the fabric of how we do business rather than an afterthought...
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