Energy Workforce: Culture of Innovation

By Randy Young,Georgia Power Company

Our company and industry were born of innovation and the need to solve everyday business problems, which have ultimately and fundamentally changed the way people live and work throughout history. Fast forward to today and the stakes for our industry are much more competitive than in years past. Our industry is still ever evolving with new advancements in technology and continues to adapt in order to meet the needs of our customers.

Like many utility companies, Georgia Power (NYSE: SO) did not actively capture and protect the majority of these innovations. Employees were developing new ideas, processes and tools that enhanced their productivity and impacted how they did their jobs every day.  However; we started to notice that in some cases we were buying back our own innovations without any value returned to the company. We felt it was time to put the brakes on employee ideas and innovations that were otherwise walking out the doors. With the understanding that knowledge is a vital key to any organizations success, and that our organization’s most valuable resource is its people and their knowledge – or their intellectual capital - we began to look at ways we could capture and create a culture of innovation at Georgia Power that would be repeatable across the system.

Many successful organizations had already developed ways of protecting their innovations, and determined that in order for an organization to be successful that innovative knowledge needed to be managed. Since Georgia Power did not have a clear and well communicated process to capture these employee driven innovations, we first began to define what the “culture of innovation” meant to us.

Given the challenge to look at our company’s intellectual property, we put together a small team of employees with the purpose of creating a process that could help change the culture of innovation for our company.  Knowing that innovation needs opportunity and enough structure and support to help spark ingenuity in employees, and that a culture of innovation would not be an overnight success. The culture of innovation would be a consistent process rather than an occasional effort. That innovation would force constant change in our thought processes. This small group’s mission was to define a process to identify the appropriate protection for our homegrown innovations, or Intellectual Property (IP). This included protection for business plan processes, tools with patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, and as a result, Georgia Power’s Intellectual Property and Everyday Solutions © initiative was created.

Everyday Solutions © was designed to encourage, develop, maintain and capture the benefits derived from Georgia Power employee ideas and innovations.  It provides a structured and a repeatable process for transitioning employee ideas into protected Intellectual Property.  The Everyday Solutions© program has helped reshape our culture by providing an avenue to foster employee ideas and solutions to business problems in their everyday jobs. The types of ideas that could also potentially impact the company both internally with better systems, products or tools, and externally helping customers with an overall better customer experience. 

The program focuses on several key elements: executive participation and communications, employee research, administration, and development of an overall employee change communication platform.  There is also focus on how to capture employee generated ideas and product enhancements, determining a plan and process for employees’ innovative ideas once captured. This process is helping to change the way employees look at their job task. Helping them to solved business problems while capturing and protecting current and future innovation opportunities that would help build a foundation for adding value back to Georgia Power.

The business will benefit significantly from securing and patenting these innovations.  In order for any organization to be successful in protecting their innovations, there must be a culture that is geared toward building the sustainable consensus necessary to ensure alignment of employees around the Intellectual Property initiative. There must also be ongoing communications that are effectively integrated, business objectives within expected timeframe, a solid foundation of business objectives, desired end-state, and expectations for the project, and fit an overall strategic plan. The ultimate outcome of this process will improve the protection of Intellectual Property and encourage employee participation in creation and protection of new innovative ideas.

Our industry continues to face increasing competitive pressures and higher performance expectations from our customers and Wall Street. Protecting our competitive innovative advantage and seeking additional opportunities to create commercial value from our assets are imperative. Like many corporations, our corporate culture is recognizing the value of IP.  Georgia Power is now protecting our Intellectual Property and our employees are changing the way we conduct business by creating better ways to meet our shareholder and customers’ needs.

Today, we recognized that we are an industry of great innovation and conclude that the Intellectual Property and EverydaySolutions © program has been and will continue to be a mechanism for achieving these objectives.

Furthermore, we believe this is only the beginning, and that we have successfully facilitated this change of culture in our employees around innovation, helping us continue to grow as a company, continue to reward our employees for their innovations, and providing additional business advantage and in selected cases commercial value back to Southern Company.

About the author

Randy Young is the Director of Products and Services at Georgia Power Company Randy Young is a native of Dublin, Georgia and a graduate of Georgia State University in Atlanta. He is employed with Georgia Power Company with 38 years of service in Customer Service, Human Resources, Transmission, Distribution and Forestry & Right of Way Services. He is currently Director of Products & Services in the Marketing Organization.

Randy is married to the former Kathy Lynch from Griffin, Georgia and resides with his family in Fayetteville. Kathy and Randy have two sons, two daughters and two grandchildren. Randy is an avid conservationist and outdoorsman who enjoys bird hunting, fishing, and riding his Harley Davidson. He is Chairman of the Board of the Georgia Wildlife Federation.

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