Yammer gets ideas flowing at Severn Trent Water

Innovation at Severn Trent - Upper Derwent Valley
Severn Trent - Upper Derwent Valley

Most of us know that the answers to some of our biggest corporate conundrums lie within our frontline workforce. The challenge of course is finding them. Alison Boothby caught up with Lesley Parker, Front End Innovation Research Lead at Severn Trent Water, to find out how one of the UK’s largest water companies is driving innovation with Yammer.

“Our innovation team grew out of a more traditional R&D function and uses an open innovation model to help us think about the innovation needs of the business. As part of that wider team, there are three of us involved specifically with generating ideas and capturing the really great knowledge that rests within our operational frontline staff. For the last 18 months, my focus has been on tapping into this goldmine.”

Severn Trent Logo
Severn Trent Logo

Essentially what Lesley wanted to do was to find the best way to crowdsource great ideas. With more than 5000 employees, ideas management can become a headache, so she went in search of ideation platforms that could help streamline the processes involved.

“I was already looking at and evaluating a number of tools but struggling with the notion of introducing yet another new technology to the business which would take people time to master, require training and sit outside our other business process applications. I wanted something that was mobile and very straightforward to use. I then heard about Sideways 6 from a colleague.”

“We didn’t want to introduce yet another app. We wanted to spark collaboration around ideas in the places where it happens naturally.”

Sideways 6
Sideways 6 is an innovation platform that capitalises on an existing enterprise social network. It’s an intelligence layer on top of your ESN, helping you run your ideas campaign, communicate with your crowd, and find the best ideas in an accessible, intuitive and social way.

An open door for us to push
Lesley continues: “Yammer was already established in Severn Trent, primarily as a comms and engagement tool. It is well used and enjoys strong support from the CEO who regularly blogs, vlogs and is visibly active. Yammer use had grown organically, and uptake was pretty good already. It seemed crazy not to capitalise on this. It was an open door for us to push!

Severn Trent - Clywedog Reservoir
Severn Trent – Clywedog Reservoir

A Working Out Loud culture
“We have worked hard for some years on encouraging technical knowledge sharing across the business; its very much part of how we operate. We award annually ‘The Challenge Cup’ which celebrates our ‘thinking out loud’ initiatives, so getting our people to offer up ideas and comment on what they are seeing seemed a natural next step.”

Bright Sparks
In summer 2017 Lesley and her team agreed to run three campaigns as a trial with Sideways 6. “We created an innovation group on Yammer called Bright Sparks. We decided on three hot topics that we posted to that group. And then we targeted selected groups of frontline experts and invited them to the innovation group.”

“We’ve always believed in the ability of our colleagues to help us innovate and improve. Sideways 6 have given us the tools to bring that to life.”

Word spread quickly, and conversations sprung up. I asked Lesley about the success of the project. 

Success so far
“My goal at the outset was to feed our innovation pipeline; the more ideas we generate the better the likelihood is that we will unearth ideas that will make it into our company innovation portfolio.  So far, we have run three short campaigns, each over a two week period, and each one focusing on a specific business challenge. The results are really good!”

Over 500 people have joined and contributed to the Bright Sparks community. 190 ideas have been generated, with around 1500 comments and interactions. But what happens to all this information? Capturing it is one thing. Managing, filtering, reviewing and analysing the ideas and keeping everyone up to date is a key part of the process.

“Using the Sideways 6 platform we have been able to channel each idea through a structured review and approval process, enabling us to shortlist the best and most relevant ideas much, much more quickly than we would ordinarily have been able to do. From ten shortlisted ideas, three have been accepted into the company’s innovation portfolio meaning that resource is committed to bringing those ideas to life.”

Lesley and her team have been delighted with the early campaigns and are continuing to work with Sideways 6 fine-tuning the product to make the ideas management even slicker. “It has been good to experience small scale success and then we can build on from there. I call it the ‘Trojan Mouse’ approach!” Lesley concludes.