All too often idea generation schemes fizzle out leaving a sour aftertaste of disenfranchised employees, shoulder-shrugging middle management and a comms team on their uppers. But it doesn’t have to be this way. At Centrica they have successfully harnessed the power of Yammer to give their people a voice, to involve them in innovation and make a difference to their future. Alison Boothby meets the team who are shaping their award-winning ideation process and embedding it throughout the company.
With around 30,000 employees worldwide Centrica is one of the largest multinational energy and services companies. It is focused on meeting the changing needs of its customers in a rapidly evolving sector. The UK Change & Continuous Improvement team have the constant challenge of finding new ways to improve customer satisfaction, improve processes and reduce costs.
Realising that ideas for improving your business may well rest with your workers closest to your customers presents both an opportunity and a challenge for many companies. So how best to capture the experiences and insights from these colleagues who are interacting with customers every day? How best to make use of this amazing asset?
“We had had a few idea schemes in place across the business but for the most part these had lost their way a bit and were no longer a source for good,” explained Kevin Traynor (who heads up MAGIC). “One of our engineers had suggested it would be good to have an app on phones so that those without regular access to office-based systems could share ideas from the field. When Yammer was officially being rolled out across the business back in summer 2016, we saw it as a good opportunity to do something new with our ideas scheme. We had just six weeks to get it up and running!”
Make a Good Idea Count
Sitting within the wider UK Change team, a MAGIC (Make A Good Idea Count) task force was set up and quickly got to work with leaders to drive their enthusiasm for the new scheme, encouraging them to get active on Yammer. As well as welcoming ideas from all colleagues, inspired by customer interactions, the MAGIC team run campaigns that are targeted at specific areas of the business. Gordon Blue, Business Improvement Analyst and Ideas Manager at Centrica, picks up this point: “Perhaps a little naively in the early days, we took ideas from anywhere and everywhere. While good to start with – and it certainly got people active on the MAGIC Yammer group – we have learnt over time that it is imperative to have a project or programme with funding behind it to get ideas actioned and make the idea count.”
Using Yammer, a social media platform for internal communications, has been extremely successful in encouraging collaborative behaviours across Centrica. An idea sparked by a customer interaction gets posted in Yammer and, through a collaborative process, others get involved and help to shape that idea. Latest statistics show that some 16,000 individual users are actively participating on the MAGIC Yammer group making it by far the most popular Yammer group in Centrica in 2018. One idea suggested by a team member was to allow customers to text back during the complaint process. Having put it to the test, it was shown to improve the net promoter score from 6 to 22 and after implementation there was a projected saving of over £5 million from call reduction! That’s a staggering success for the business showing that a small action like posting an idea on MAGIC can make a positive impact on the business, its customers and colleagues. Gordon stresses: “MAGIC is for everyone! We need our people to know that their ideas, views and opinions count. It’s an ‘always on’ process and it’s our job to ensure that it remains relevant. This is done through a simple recognition process, with certificates and vouchers awarded. More importantly, it is part of our development conversations too.”
With more than 10,000 ideas, and approaching 100,000 comments and likes, how have Centrica kept track of what’s going on? Gordon again: “Yammer quickly becomes a minefield if you don’t have some means of tracking ideas. If ideas appear to drop into a black hole, that’s when schemes like this fizzle out. We are fortunate to have a great data mining package which is brilliant for idea tracking and surfacing the most popular ideas. With tools for capturing, managing, filtering, reviewing and analysing ideas, it saves us huge amounts of time and allows us to focus on business solutions.”
Keeping up momentum
The very fact that MAGIC is approaching three years old, and is still growing, is impressive. How have Gordon and his colleagues kept up the enthusiasm and its momentum? Gordon admits: “It’s been hard work for the team, but it is about really listening to people – not just hearing them. That means a constant cycle of communication and feedback. It’s about making sure our people can see the outcomes and actions taken on the back of ideas. We work closely with our communications colleagues to run regular campaigns and updates, making the most of all our available channels. We make good use of our employee engagement reps and put in the hours visiting sites and getting out on the road with engineers. We are constantly rolling out to new parts of our business and are now involving our colleagues globally.
“It can be challenging to be agile in an organisation of our size so it’s our job to provide a constant drum beat of what is being acted on, and the progress being made. When we have leadership involvement in any of our idea campaigns, we see much better engagement, so it helps that our CEO and Managing Directors are right behind it: their involvement is essential for our MAGIC success in the long run. By running campaigns that directly support agreed company projects and programmes we can pick up ideas that confirm our roadmap is correct.”
“MAGIC’s aim is to give Centrica’s people a voice and to get ideas to the senior leaders, ultimately improving the business from the bottom up. Involving our people in this way is a brilliant ethos for the company which really empowers people to play their part in evolving the business. It’s good for our people and customers. We have seen more than 340 ideas implemented now which goes to show that it’s working,” concludes Gordon.