Why doing your job well is the key to innovation

Catherine Anderson

As the chief customer officer for Powershop Australia, Catherine is an integrated marketing communications specialist with over a decade of experience on both client and agency side in the Asia-Pacific region. Prior to her appointment to Powershop, Catherine worked for multinational brands such as The Coca-Cola Company and Siemens.

The words ‘power company’ and ‘innovation’ probably don’t seem like a natural combination. In fact, when I first went for a marketing role with an electricity company, I semi-dreaded the work I thought I’d be doing.  

For whatever reason, I decided to take the gamble and I’m glad I did. Because what I have learnt in working for an electricity company is that innovation isn’t some lofty corporate goal. Innovation is perfectly achievable in any industry and any role, and simply requires a shift in perspective. 

Innovation, much like its predecessors ‘disruption’ and ‘agile’, is one of the most overused terms in business today. You cannot attend a meeting without at least one of these words popping up. And while I do see value in words, I believe the concept of innovation is being widely misused and misinterpreted.  

A current definition of innovation is: ‘The application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs’. I’d argue that a stronger definition of innovation is just ‘doing your work well’. If you’re not innovating, you’re probably not employable.  

If that sounds like an oversimplification, here’s a recent example. At Powershop, we recently started sending a SMS to our customers in their first week with some key info about how to make the most of our services, all to see if that helped them stay with us longer. Spoiler alert: It did. Now, I’d hardly label SMS as innovative – in fact, it feels like the opposite – but if innovation is simply applying better solutions to meet existing needs, then this ticks all the boxes.  

The idea of innovation as simply doing your job well can be traced from the largest multinational organisations to early-stage startups. If they’re successful, they’re innovative - and that innovation comes from doing great work.  

Amazon began as an online bookseller, but was so effective in online selling it has since built up a customer service, inventory and shipping empire that sells just about anything you could want or imagine. Or look at Thankyou, a local social enterprise founded on the concept of buying a bottle of water to help give poverty-stricken communities access to water. A decade later, they’ve applied the same sales approach to a host of body care, food and baby products to help fund programs in 16 countries, and succeeded in a competitive consumer market.  

Doing the job well at Powershop has produced many of our biggest insights and breakthroughs, without a single employee hackathon in sight. For instance, we want our customers to have access to us on the weekends, but our call centres in Melbourne and New Zealand aren’t open like some of our larger competitors can afford to do. Our solution is to have a rotating weekend roster of staff who keep an eye on social media on weekends - no poor recent graduate who has to do it seven days a week, no outsourcing and no chatbots. And it’s not just staff, but primarily executive management and, yes most definitely including our CEO.  

Whether you classify it as innovative or not, having real people look after social has had many positive outcomes on our business. One weekend, a senior manager was monitoring Facebook. They noticed some people struggling with one of the forms on the website, completed the form themselves and realised how archaic it was, printed it on Monday and crossed off the stuff they couldn’t answer on the form but was mandatory. We realised we needed none of it. The form’s completion rate has now increased by 104 per cent.  

Doing the work well is a self-perpetuating approach to innovation. Recently, we launched a demand response program to help support our energy system in peak times. Think the fourth day in a row over 40 degrees in mid-February. Demand response is pretty serious as our energy system has real capacity risk with the amount of power we may all demand at these times. We have project managers in our business with more than 40 years’ experience in the energy industry, but we’ve made the decision to have a 25-year old lead this project instead, because research shows innovation thrives when people feel challenged by the tasks and projects they are assigned.  

Plenty of big Australian corporates now have innovation departments tasked with implementing the latest blue-sky thinking. But how many of them are actually encouraging innovation through the work itself? Instead of going around thinking we have to ‘innovate, innovate, innovate’, how about we just find ways to do things a bit better, and then give them a try.  

Remember - if an electricity company can do better, your industry probably can too.

Tags: digital marketing

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