posted 1 Jan 1998 in Volume 1 Issue 3
The Process for Innovation - A Case Study of Bae
Susie Crowley examines 'The Process for Innovation' which was awarded the Information Strategy Magazine 'Knowledge Culture' Award for the pioneering development of a corporate knowledge and learning culture, and has been recognised by the DTI as a generic and transportable method which can be used across UK Plc.
In 1994, following years of downsizing and plant closures, a major change program was initiated in British Aerospace plc by its CEO, Sir Dick Evans. The main problem within BAe was that each of the separate business units had retained their own identity since their amalgamation into the company, and the aim of the program, Benchmark BAe, was to create a single identity, with a one-BAe culture.
This was to be done through the adoption of 5 corporate values that would drive all behaviours across the company.
|Customers - Our Highest Priority|
|People - Our Greatest Strength|
|Partnerships - Our Future|
|Performance - Our Key To Winning|
|Innovation and Technology - Our Competitive Edge|
Value teams, consisting of senior management from each of the business units, were set up to oversee the adoption of these values, and define how the company could become the benchmark in each of them. In total, 19 benchmark actions were assigned to the 5 values.
The Innovation and Technology Value Team settled on 4 main actions;
The Chairman's Awards For Innovation, launched in 1996 was designed to recognise and publicise individuals or teams who exemplify innovation. The scheme is based on peer nomination, and entries are judged on a company wide set of criteria with awards given on the basis of business benefit or innovative behaviour. Individual Business Units award at the Bronze Level twice a year and at Silver Level once a year. The Silver Winners are invited to a yearly Gold Award ceremony, hosted by our Chairman, where a very few nominations will win the highest accolade - The Gold Award. This year only 4 Gold Awards were made, selected from over 700 nominations across the business units.
The Innovation Forum is held once a year, when top management are taken out of the work place to spend time working in a simulated future business environment. The workshop addresses aspects of leadership, environment and processes, challenging the managers to draw innovation into the future company strategy.
Link BAe consists of 3 programs of work: e-mail and a company intranet, which work together as a means of sharing information and knowledge across the company, and the Internet to provide access to external sources of information.
The final action under the Innovation and Technology value is The Process For Innovation. This is a program for identifying and transferring best innovative practice across the company.
The aim of this program is 'to grow and sustain an innovative culture through focusing on the processes and behaviours that influence innovation and by transfer of best practice across the company'.
Extensive work was carried out to create an Innovation Framework, based on the idea that Innovation is the successful implementation of a new idea. The framework breaks down the process of innovation into three steps: creativity and idea generation, the way in which BAe develops ideas, and the barriers that can be put in their way, and the methods of implementing ideas that add value to products, processes or our working environment.
These 3 steps are influenced by 3 factors:
1. Customer Focus
This explores how customers influence BAe's ability to generate ideas focused on their needs, how BAe retains contact with Customers when developing ideas, and whether the developments stay in line with customer requirements.
2. Organizational Culture
Does our culture encourage our staff to come up with, and develop new ideas. It also covers barriers to innovation, where they exist and if they are easily overcome.
3. Business Processes
This factor is concerned with the processes used to develop ideas, and ensuring that any changes made as a result of an innovative idea are aligned to business objectives and provide a competitive advantage.
These factors are mapped against the process of innovation to create the framework.
An innovation survey, consisting of 24 questions was developed, with each question relating to part of the Innovation Framework. This was sent out to approximately 34,000 of the 44,000 staff that work at BAe. The response rate was over 40%, making this the most successful survey undertaken by BAe to date.
Analysis of the replies against the Innovation Framework revealed 26 top scoring workgroups across the whole company, who rated themselves within the top 10 in any of the Innovation Framework categories. These workgroups were asked to fill in a very detailed self assessment, and were visited by members of the Process For Innovation team to find out if their view of themselves was justified. In almost all cases it was. The self assessment document and visit were used to draw out the best practices and behaviours that made the workgroups innovative.
The survey was the first step in possibly the most in-depth study of Innovation that has ever been undertaken and from these studies emerged the best tried and tested practices for creating an environment for innovation.
All the information gathered by the survey and the visits were analysed in relation to the Innovation framework and used to build up an Innovation Profile for BAe, showing where our strengths and weaknesses lay. Gaps in our knowledge were filled in with the help of external organizations who were invited to join our Industrial Innovation Forum to compare approaches and transfer best practice.
Now all the information was in a useable form, the next step was to make it available to the BAe population so it could be used to maximum effect.
Due to the numbers of people involved, the BAe intranet- OpenSpace was chosen as the main method of communication.
Brief case studies of the top workgroups were drawn up to highlight the processes and behaviours that result in their innovativeness, and these were put onto the Process For Innovation home pages. These pages include an explanation of how to apply the philosophy and mechanisms of the process, allowing each department to grow it's own innovative culture.
Anyone who feels that their team needs development on a certain point of the Innovation Framework can look on the intranet for case studies of areas that exhibit best practice in this area. All case studies include a point of contact so the area concerned can get further information to decide if the method suggested is appropriate to their department. These best innovative practices can then be mirrored or adapted for use in the new department to enhance its innovative growth.
A self assessment tool will be made available to managers, who will be asked to assess their department in relation to the innovation framework, and generate an Innovation Action Plan. This will show how they plan to use the information provided on the intranet to create an innovative culture within their own department, through transferral of ideas and techniques from other areas.
The Process for Innovation was recently awarded the Information Strategy Magazine 'Knowledge Culture' Award for the pioneering development of a corporate knowledge and learning culture, and has been recognised by the DTI as a generic and transportable method which can be used across UK Plc. The next step is to make it self sustainable, and talks are underway with the newly set up BAe Virtual University. The aim is to make the University its home, removing the need for a dedicated 'Innovation Team'. The University will also offer education in Best Practice Transfer, and Innovation and it is hoped that the University, in conjunction with the methodologies of the process for innovation will encourage innovation and creativity in all our employees.
Susie Crowley is at British Aerospace. She can be contacted at: