Interview series with Team of Three (To3) - People innovation unlocks business innovation

Annemie Ress is the Chief People Officer of the innogy Innovation Hub and in this role, is also responsible for ‘ways of working’ and network engagement, as well as being Managing Director innogy UK Ltd  of the Innovation Hub. Annemie co-leads the strategic and commercial direction of the Innovation Hub, which includes deciding on investment in over 50 start-ups, driving customer, commercial and people growth with a specific focus on disruptive digital, the machine economy, cyber security and smart and connected ventures.

Annemie, you have been with the innogy Innovation Hub from the beginning and in your leadership role in the Innovation Hub, responsible for the key topic of ‘People & Talent’. What have you experienced on your journey?

A lot of organisations expect people to innovate, but they are not innovative in how they treat or engage with the people they expect to make innovation happen. My view is that people innovation unlocks business innovation.

You might have read that we as the Innovation Hub have been through different phases of innovation: from starting out as an in-house change management unit, evolving as an incubator, accelerator and company builder to eventually become what we are today, an ‘accelerator and corporate VC, with a successful track record in building and launching our own start-ups, running world-recognized accelerator platforms and undertaking substantial strategic investments. During these various phases, we have needed different people with different capabilities and skills. But one thing has remained  constant: the need to have people with the right mind set on board. Through all these changes, and the many ups and downs, we have always retained a focus on talent development, which has resulted in our current high performing team.

When speaking to your teams, many people highlight the great level of collaboration and trust between team members.  What are the core values for innovation you see as most relevant?

In the starting phase of the Innovation Hub we laid the foundation for our innovation culture, how we wanted to work and do business. As part of this work, we defined our four innovation values that have stayed the same since that time. We have already mentioned several times in our communications that “Success is a meandering path”. This is important both for our start-ups and for us as the Innovation Hub. “Keep it simple” is a rule I personally like very much. Simplicity is directly related to the topic of trust. We believe that trust in our people is one of the most important and motivating factors in our approach to people. For example in our agile structure, our people are asked to come up with a 60% or 70% solution – and then we look at it together and proceed as a team. It’s important to trust that this 70 % version is enough to get started – and that people can believe in it. That’s one of the main rules to prevent people from going 100 % in the wrong direction.

Another of our core values is that ‘we are inclusive’. One positive example of how we live this value is our team meetings known as ‘Working Thursdays’. Transparency and openness come along with trust. We like to say “you can only trust, if you have transparency.”

Finally, we embrace the value of ‘Comfort with discomfort’, which is about accepting failure as a normal part of the innovation process and holding ‘learning parties’ to ensure we capture and share the lessons learned.

What is your personal advice for anyone else who aims to create an innovative working environment?

Having the right people on board is key. You need people with the right mind-set, which means having a mind-set that is suited  to your business ambition. In a successful innovation business, you need people with top capabilities who can be very persistent and unwavering in pursuit of their goals.

Secondly, in my opinion, it’s key to define core values that fit your company, are relevant for your business and essential for survival. I´m very proud that despite all the changes we have made, the four values we defined at the beginning of the Innovation Hub remain the same. And last but not least, don’t accept that the way it has been done before means you should do things the same way in future. However, always keep in mind that people innovation is as important as business innovation.

‘Network Engagement’ is also one of the topics you are guiding in the Innovation Hub. What does that mean?

Networks play a key role in the innovation world – where it’s all about speed, trust and agility – to have the right person at the right moment available for the specific need of your business. Everyone in the Innovation Hub has a fantastic network and we all need to spend time keeping these relationships and conversations going. However, in order to do our business professionally and reach our targets, we as an organization need to leverage this on a structured and purposeful level. The purpose can be around a certain topic (driving thought leadership in a specific topic) or a certain activity (promoting our start-ups in the energy retail segment). What we realized is that our data-driven approach helps us bring the right people together who can benefit from being amongst their peers and have fruitful conversations to drive their businesses forward. For me, a key aspect of our success in building a great Innovation Hub network lies not only in using it for our own benefit, but offering our network solutions to problems or challenges they might face as well.

Final point, Annemie: A very short elevator pitch: the energy industry is not well-known for being the front-runner of innovation. Why did you decide to co-create a future energy system?

You can either be a part of the problem, or choose to be a part of making the solution happen. There are many examples in the world of where ordinary people or small teams outperformed and delivered way beyond what they dreamt was possible. I believe we will do that!

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