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Innovating Out Loud: Empowering Others to Find Their Innovative Voice

Greg Ratcliff •

In this blog series, “Innovating Out Loud,” I discuss Vertiv’s culture of innovation through the lens of five behaviors that help spark curiosity, bring new and exciting ideas into the fold, and strengthen a company’s innovation muscles. These behaviors are described in one of my favorite books on the topic of innovation, “Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit Inside Your Organization.” In this post, we’ll discuss empowerment and how to ensure ideas are heard and idea creators are properly recognized.

When I introduced the pioneering Technology Scout program (an innovation on the innovation process, if you will), I did so with the intent of having a collective of talented individuals driven by an intellectual curiosity and a passion for bringing new ideas into the business. Over the previous several blog posts, we’ve outlined four behaviors that can help build these types of attributes and a culture of innovation, but we’ve yet to go in depth on the behavior that has the greatest potential to yield innovation — empowerment.

We’re all familiar with the thought experiment on whether a fallen tree in the woods makes a sound if no one is there to hear it. In a similar vein, if employees have great ideas but the company doesn’t have the proper platforms or incentives for sharing these ideas, can innovation truly grow within an organization?

In my previous blog post on diverse collaboration, I introduced one big example of how we at Vertiv empower employees, which is through our regional events that culminate in our Global Innovation Summit. The summit offers everyone the chance to share ideas, leave with best practices from innovators outside the company, and be recognized for their contributions to innovation at Vertiv. In fact, the 2022 summit saw a 20% year-over-year growth in patent disclosures. Below are some of the other ways we are working to make the company fertile soil for seeds of innovation.

Improving the Innovation Gathering Process

At this year’s Global Innovation Summit, we spoke with Dan Ling, Director of Technology Process at Vertiv, about the work he does to improve innovation and technology development prior to our formal new product development and introduction (NPDI) process. This work helps keep track of the most promising ideas floating around the company. Dan and his team have created an innovation backlog where ideas from all lines of the business can be shared and refined before being presented to our technology councils and product development teams.

Encouraging More Company-Wide Innovation

While much of our meetings on the topic of innovation occur between our Technology Scouts and technology office, we’ve recently made the decision to open up the discussions to our team of mainline engineers. At the moment, we are piloting this approach with our thermal engineering research and development team. By having more members of our team participate, we hope for greater visibility from our core staff and subsequent debate that will allow us to build upon ideas as we develop new products and solutions.

Making Innovation an Interactive Experience

One main driver for the Technology Scout program was to get scouts away from their desks and out into the world to explore subjects and ideas they’re passionate about. Similarly, when our scouts collaborate with each other on innovative ideas, we encourage them to find ways to make the process more dynamic and interactive. For instance, we have our regular “Yam Jam” brainstorming sessions on Yammer, where employees can freely share and discuss interesting findings on a variety of topics from the future of edge computing to using ammonia to power data centers. In addition to making the innovation process more engaging, we’ve also made it more competitive by holding “Shark Tank-style” events with our technical staff to bring the voice of the customer to life. We also held an innovation contest in China last year where the winners had their projects funded by Vertiv.

Blending Innovation With Accountability

Companies use all kinds of metrics to help measure growth and establish accountability. Vertiv recently released its Data Center Guide to Sustainability, which offers frameworks and metrics to help organizations reduce emissions and improve efficiency. In my line of work, I’ve found the idea of innovation accounting (IA) to be a powerful tool for accurately measuring and evaluating the success of innovative ideas. Rather than simply relying on financial indicators, IA provides a framework of layered and interconnected indicators that can help predict the success of an idea and allows teams to focus their time and attention more effectively. The first type of indicator is tactical IA, which pertains to measuring individual teams by the experiments they’re conducting and progress they’re making throughout the ideation process. Managerial IA measures the innovation funnel and helps the company make informed innovation investments based on evidence provided by the product teams. The final indicator is strategic IA, which helps the company examine the success of an investment for an innovative idea by judging its performance and alignment with the company’s business goals and culture.

If you have any thoughts or comments on the topic of innovation, please get in touch. I’d love to hear your ideas and maybe discuss how the methods outlined over these past several blog posts can help you and your colleagues think more innovatively.

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