Utilities Digital Solutions Europe

People data – the missing ingredient to unlock collaborative innovation in water?

Monday, 23 October 2023

Ahead of the Innovation Forum Fireside Chat, Kristi Vollgraaff, organisational psychologist at TR Solutions asks can people data be used to drive the adoption innovation at pace?  


Creating new value innovation

In today's rapidly evolving and complex business landscape, the process of creating new value (innovation) has become essential to stay competitive and relevant. Within this context, the focus on people and process, along with technology, is vital to ensure sustainable implementation of innovation initiatives. Therefore, the unique opportunity arises to align innovation initiatives with an understanding of where individuals and teams naturally want to make an impact and contribution in the business cycle.  


Nurturing innovation

At its core, innovation can be defined as the process of turning ideas into tangible results. Over the years, many organisations have faced challenges in establishing the right conditions for nurturing innovation. One significant factor contributing to this challenge lies in how innovation is approached.

Typically, organisations communicate their aspirations to cultivate an innovation-driven culture and encourage their employees to embody the spirit of innovation. They often achieve this by offering various training programmes and interventions, with the goal of fostering a more innovative mindset. To date, limited success has been achieved with this approach.  

In this article I delve into a compelling case study within Anglian Water Services, a forward-thinking company at the forefront of its industry. I explore how people data can be used to foster an environment conducive to accelerated and successful adoption of innovation. By delving into this case study, you can gain valuable insights into how a deep understanding of energy for impact can drive innovation. 

Anglian Water Services and people data

The deficiency in the capability to truly place people at the centre of innovation initiatives posed a unique opportunity - to introduce new methodologies that integrate individuals into the innovation process. As a response to this unique opportunity, Anglian Water Services, implemented the innovation incubator to dynamically re-engineer the business, and radically change the way they work to build the water company of the future. The innovation incubator looks to leverage this towards scaling out innovation and adoption across the organisation, at pace.  

One of the initiatives included an emphasized focus on the utilisation of people data. People data can be defined as specific information and data collected at different points, about individuals within organisations. As an umbrella term, people data encompasses a holistic overview of psychological traits, capabilities, energy for impact, and behavioural preferences.  

Within the context of Anglian Water Services’ innovation incubator, people data are currently defined as:  
1. Individual data – insights that identify the diversity of talent needed to create game changing outputs             within cycles of innovation and change with a focus into an individual’s potential strengths and areas for             development.   
2. Team data - an overview of potential strengths and identification of areas of risk within the team. The             required team composition may vary depending on the task at hand, or the specific phase of the                       innovation / cycle of change and these insights highlight which minority contributions (lower levels of                 energy) can be activated. 
3. Climate data – baseline insights focused on shared perceptions of a working environment.  The results           aim to articulate how an exploratory working climate can be curated for optimal innovation to occur. An             exploratory working climate is defined as an environment that activates diversity of contributions, where           there is energy to convene, passion to learn, change course, discover, and invent what the future                     requires of us. 
This holistic view of people data will result in richer insights that aims to advance the potential of the system, mitigate risks, and articulate factors that enable or disable achievement of objectives to ultimately exit and scale innovation initiatives.

Further, this view of people data aims to: increase predictability of impact, reduce barriers to performance, enable the organisation to make informed people related decisions, and predict future performance and behaviour reliably.   


Creating a ‘winning culture’

If we draw the parallel to a child’s sports team that is intended to create a ‘winning culture’. If the only metric for winning is ‘scoring goals’ then each child is going to want to score goals, feel bad if they don’t score goals and create divisive behaviours. If, however, we show the children how they all contribute to a winning culture by defending goals, creating goals, supporting teammates, etc. then everyone knows how they can contribute and feels valued for contributing to a ‘winning culture’. 

The same is true for organisations looking to embed an innovation culture. If their only metric for innovation is how many ‘ideas’ are generated, they will encounter the same problem. However, with the utilisation of people data – Anglian Water Services now have the insights and a language to show how everyone can contribute to the process of innovation. 

This people data provides a framework to show how each person can positively impact the innovation culture rather than the historical rhetoric of ‘you need to be innovative’. This drives an inclusive environment where everyone is valued for how they contribute to the efforts of game changing teams and turning making ideas into a reality. 

To ensure an accelerated and successful adoption of innovations, people data proves to be pivotal. This multifaceted approach ensures that innovation becomes a core part of Anglian Water Services’ way of working, leading to accelerated adoption and sustained competitive advantage in a rapidly changing business environment. 

- Kristi Vollgraaff is organisational psychologist at TR Solutions and will be speaking about the collaboration with Anglian Water in more detail during the Aquatech Innovation Forum, taking place on November 6th. For more information, visit: https://shorturl.at/apEH1. Contributors to this article included, Jean Dick, innovation coach – TR Solutions, Nathan Ott, co-creator – The GC Index and Dr John Mervyn-Smith, co-creator - The GC Index.