Specialists at bwcon help medium-sized enterprise with the “innovation learning journey”
Small and medium-sized enterprises are often confronted by seemingly insurmountable hurdles when they embark on or try to establish innovation processes, especially if their operations are already up and running. To provide them with a safe environment, there is a new concept called the Innovation Learning Journey. The format behind this concept focuses on the challenges encountered when trying to involve all employees “at the right time” – with their ideas, skills, and experience. As part of a European INTERREG project called DesAlps, the bwcon Innovation Academy has been working with a hidden champion of industry, KRAMER from Umkirch outside Freiburg, and embarked on the Steinbeis Network’s first successful test in this area.
“Join us on a journey of innovation!” This was the invitation extended by the bwcon Innovation Academy earlier this year to SMEs from Baden-Wuerttemberg. Firms were invited to apply for the Innovation Learning Journey. The criteria that affected acceptance to the program included participants’ underlying motivations and the degree to which they would be open to trying out new methods or work principles. Factors such as communication and trust played a central role in interviews. This is because the chosen method of collaboration was also an experiment for the academy. The company that was selected from all the applicants was KRAMER, which has 90 years of experience in coming up with innovations in different sectors of industry: insulation technology, cold room construction, and shopfitting. With more than 250 employees in all areas of Europe, KRAMER is one the leading companies in its sector.
To start the journey, a core project team consisting of experts from the Academy and KRAMER met up and agreed the ground rules and goals for their six-month collaboration. Taking the current situation as their starting point, the team drafted a list of challenges and areas of action. This highlighted the fact that the company had no clear internal procedures for dealing with innovations. It also lacked the required “visibility” when it came to disruptive ideas that had already been implemented. A central concern of the project was to make better use of staff potential in keeping with the principles of continuous improvement – across the entire organization, bundling competences with a specific goal in mind.
AN EXPEDITION: THE INNOVATION LEARNING JOURNEY
In the weeks that followed, the experts at the Academy fleshed out pain points with the project team at KRAMER and identified which ones resulted in losing potential customers. They also defined an ideal process for innovations. This now clearly assigns roles to everyone involved in the innovation process and maps areas of responsibility and tasks. The firm’s overall process now follows “end-to-end logic,” providing a complete internal project framework from the initial idea to long-term implementation.
STAGE POSTS AND CHECK-OUT
The journey of KRAMER was a collaborative process from beginning to end, with clearly assigned roles. After reviewing certain points, team members could share their experiences and, if necessary, leverage them to change direction. At the end, there was also discussion surrounding the personal and collective insights of stakeholders:
- No journeys pass off without incident. The Innovation Learning Journey also encountered bottlenecks and bumps along the way, forcing the project team to make adjustments. In a world dictated by change, it would be utopian to expect transformation processes to pass off without friction. This is where understanding and flexibility are needed.
- People are only human. There were no surprises on this front and the project team also met with some unforgiving headwinds. It takes a lot of empathy to pick up on sentiments during live processes, perceive resistance, look further into the causes, and seek dialog. Also, communicating more openly instils more trust among staff involved in the process.
- “One must travel to learn” – as Marc Twain once said. It’s quite common to see “plannability” and safety being sent to the back of the line and people going off in a completely new direction. When this happens, it’s important to have a companion on the journey – someone who looks at things from a different angle and helps with decisions. It’s also helpful if they come in from outside, especially with in-house change processes.
For the time being, the journey has reached its destination – although the team at KRAMER still has wanderlust. The next step will be to test the process by working on a specific example at KRAMER.
Alexandra Hofmann (author)
bwcon GmbH (Stuttgart)