Accelerating Employee Engagement at Eneco

Open innovation as a tool for culture change
Accelerating Employee Engagement at Eneco
Publ. date 6 May 2014
Not so long ago, utility companies were public agencies that offered predictable products and services, and had little to no competitors. They did not need to have an open, social and innovative character, and entrepreneurial skills were not that important. During the 1990's this slowly began to change. Moreover, new technological opportunities and contemporary developments led to further acceleration. So how faces Eneco, a >€5 billion turnover Dutch energy company, this changing context?

Innovation in the energy sector

Globally the energy market is in transition. In the Netherlands, so-called ECN (Energieonderzoek Centrum Nederland) analyses and publishes the developments within the Dutch energy sector. In ‘Energytrends 2013’, the ECN has identified key trends such as:
• movements within the European and global energy markets;
• the expansion of solar power;
• necessary innovation of the energy system;
• innovation of the labor market (energy sector).

Overall the researchers claim that "now is the time to take action and to reform the energy system by anticipating on the developments that are observed".

Bringing the established order down

As the energy transition is a global development, the Dutch energy sector cannot stay behind in terms of innovation. In addition, nowadays customers become more and more assertive, and the choices they have are numerous. In the near future they will even fulfill the role as energy supplier. During this continuous transition, traditional business models will be set aside, consumers become prosumers and disruptive innovation, innovation that brings down the established order, will become daily reality.        

Internal innovation and entrepreneurship

It is clear that Eneco does not want to manage this energy transition on its own, but it does want to play a major part in this process. Therefore, Eneco has an internal 'ecosystem' designed for innovation and entrepreneurship. With four new initiatives that complement and reinforce each other, the company hopes to prepare colleagues for a future where innovation and entrepreneurship form an integral part of the organizational culture and daily practice.

Four initiatives for open innovation

The four initiatives for innovation and entrepreneurship together create one ecosystem: each project is a breeding ground for these new organizational skills. And the results of provide input to the other projects in such a way that they can reinforce each other in the concrete implementation and delivery of new services and products. These four (concept) initiatives are:

Initiative 1: The Beloved Studio

The Beloved Studio is a place where startups, young creatives (for example artists) and colleagues come together to exchange fresh ideas. The studio will be situated at Eneco's headquarters and will be fully equipped. The BelovedStudio aims at creating an inspiring spot that enables people to share knowledge and network and to think outside the box. The interaction should stimulate colleagues to view things from a different perspective and to focus on creating inventive combinations.

The experiences with other companies, start-ups and incubators helped Eneco in developing this initiative.

Initiative 2: The Idea Accelerator

The Idea Accelerator is a new virtual element of the social platform Eneco Express. It enables employees to observe, evaluate and enhance ideas and translate them into (potential) innovations. All ideas are welcomed as they can lead to process improvements, incremental innovation or disruptive innovation. The Idea Accelerator provides a structure that converts ideas into concrete activities. How this conversion takes place exactly, is determined by innovation experts and employees together via the intranet and in real life.

Eneco Express enables colleagues to inspire each other with their stories and ideas. The Idea Accelerator uses these ideas specifically for the innovation of processes, products and Eneco’s business model. In a few months time we would like to present concrete results and the lessons learned of this extended internal social platform in a follow-up article. Eneco Express was nominated for the Internal Branding Year Award 2013.

Initiative 3 : Innovation Workshop

The power of sharing is not only becoming more visible in society, but also in business. Innovations occur when a variety of sectors or value chain disciplines cooperate. The Senseo coffee machine is a perfect example of this. The contribution of Philips and Douwe Egbert is very clear in this case: Philips provides the coffee machine and Douwe Egberts the coffee. The result: innovative (but not very tasty) coffee.

The first cross-sectoral innovation, such as Senseo, mainly focused on innovation in terms of products and services. The HBR article ‘The New Corporate Garage’ illustrates that business innovation increasingly focuses on process improvement and business model innovation. Moreover the article explains that large companies do have a distinct advantage over start-ups due to their scale and resources. This allows corporate companies to stay ahead of copycats and maintain their leading market position. Furthermore the article mentions that open innovation and collaboration are the success factors for corporate innovation.

Therefore Eneco has developed, in collaboration with other large companies, a workplace for cross-sectoral innovation. This is called: ‘Corporate in a garage’. A flexible space that evokes creativity, co-creation and intrapreneurship among visitors whom Eneco refers to as ‘innovation friends’. Among these innovation friends there are for instance colleagues who got inspired by the Idea Accelerator. In the 'garage' people are sharing data-analysis in order to translate ideas into viable innovations such as prototypes or new business models.

Initiative 4: Eneco+

Open innovation does not undermine traditional R&D-departments. On the contrary, R&D-departments are essential for stimulating disruptive innovation and testing it in a secured environment. Like this ‘business as usual’ continues while in the mean time employees find solutions for conventional products, services and business models that will suit the changing environment.      

The big difference with the past is that R&D is no longer a separate ‘laboratory’ for innovation officers only. Employees of various departments, such as ‘Solar’, ‘Biomass’, and ‘Sales & Marketing’ as well as customers and partners can come to Eneco+ and experiment towards innovation. That way Eneco offers the best fertile ground for disruptive innovation to flourish.

Shared Value: Open innovation in the social field

Eneco’s ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship is a good example of open innovation. All colleagues are able to contribute to the four initiatives. They meet people from outside the company with whom they can innovate from a market perspective. Cross-fertilization between the initiatives is actively encouraged and with the help of good monitoring the four initiatives are able to further evolve. As a result, the business strategy – ‘Sustainable energy for everybody’ – suddenly becomes tangible.       

The results generated with this new method cannot yet be quantified; it is too early. However, as with any new business models, it is not only about creating economic value. Eneco’s innovation ecosystem challenges its employees to share knowledge and learn from others. By doing so, Eneco is able to fully exploit the talent potential of its employees. 

At the same time the internal innovation system fulfills the needs of start-ups and artists and other corporate companies. The value that derives from this innovation system, is equally important to Eneco and its partners. Moreover, it is an important reason for Eneco to endure the current transition.

Source: Blanche Beijersbergen van Henegouwen & Glenn Bijvoets (Eneco), Frankwatching.

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