March 22, 2017
How utilities can create a thriving digital culture
By: Mark Insch

In our previous blog post, we explored the role of HR in establishing an employee experience that attracts the appropriate talent for a new digital world. Now I’d like to share how organizations can inspire their workforce, and create an innovative, flexible organization through a thriving digital culture. To reap the rewards of a truly digital workforce, they need to go beyond investing in technology and start to become digital from the inside out.

Developing the appropriate working environment is one place to begin. Accenture research shows that more than two-thirds of college graduates rate working environment over salary as a key employer attraction, and companies like Airbnb believe that memorable workplace experiences, including the work environment, is a key factor for success. Airbnb employees are encouraged to feel they can “belong anywhere” (just like the customers) and a “ground control” team is tasked with ensuring work environments reflect this motto and support collaboration and openness. Bi-weekly company meetings are streamed live, and employee networks are supported by internal intranet sites.

Organizational flexibility is becoming more important as the pace of change increases. Utilities need to focus on eliminating traditional barriers and functional silos, which prevent effective collaboration between employees. That’s exactly what online retailer Zappos does by enabling their staff to create, join and move between “circles”—different groups and skillsets that coalesce around solving a particular customer challenge or developing a new idea.

Enabling employee time and focus away from their normal day job is necessary for innovation. Music site Spotify encourages teams to spend roughly 10 percent of their time on “hack days”—completely free time when they can develop and try out new ideas. Or take the example of Adobe, whose downloadable “Kickbox” innovation program provided initial capital of $1,000 to any employee who applied to develop their idea. The cost and innovation benefits Adobe realized—generating more than 1,200 new ideas for the same cost previously incurred for just two ideas—have been eagerly adopted by other companies now deploying the Kickbox program. In creating space and time for employee innovation, supported by test-and-learn capabilities, utilities have the opportunity to not only use the skills of their existing employees, but also increase their attractiveness as an employer to the next generation of the workforce.

Finally, it is important to consider how traditional training and learning capabilities adapt to a new digital culture. One multinational consumer goods company is looking to push all new recruits through a digital university to educate, train and shift their cultural mindset as they join the organization. “Non-digital” talent shouldn’t be left out of this equation—market and regulatory demands such as smart meter installation has also increased the need for a more “liquid” field workforce that can be switched on and off. In attracting and training large numbers of staff quickly, virtual reality and simulations could offer huge potential: imagine using online virtual simulations to allow potential employees to walk around a power station or wind farm, or practice installing a smart meter in a hard-to-reach location.

Informal learning networks are equally important in a digital culture, and support the acceleration of organizational change. They also fit the expectations of the millennial employee. For example, in a smart meter world, peer groups rather than standard classroom activities could be a better of way developing agents to be energy advisors. By using internal collaboration networks and knowledge content tools, agents could share their experiences on how to help customers understand their usage data, and therefore learn from each other.

In summary, there are many things utilities can do to become digital at the core, through rethinking structure, talent models and culture. Companies that have been successful have established programs to transform their organization across each of these dimensions.

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