How do you get employees on board with an innovation program? At AECOM, an $8.2 billion architecture, construction, and engineering conglomerate headquartered in Los Angeles, Warwick Absolon is a fan of the intimate approach. Absolon is a manager of innovation and technology in the firm’s Australia & New Zealand region. “You need to get people comfortable with the idea that innovation can sometimes be ambiguous,” he says. “You may not be someone who invents things or files for patents, but innovation can be a slight tweak, a small change to the way we do things. It’s someone doing something new that they hope is going to add value. And it starts with an idea.”
Since 2011, Absolon has held about 150 small group discussions about innovation at AECOM in Australia and New Zealand to get people comfortable sharing new ideas, and build more organizational support for them. “We made the discussions as un-corporate as possible. No PowerPoint, no registration, not compulsory,” he says. “Just a whiteboard, and between five and twenty people in attendance talking about what innovation is at AECOM.” Absolon would spend a week in each of the company’s five big offices in the region, running the 45-minute discussions over the course of an entire workday. “People could pick and choose which hour would be best for them,” he says. That undercut the excuse of being too busy, or being scheduled for something when the innovation workshop was happening.
But Absolon also wanted to create something that would describe AECOM’s thinking about innovation to new employees (and knew he couldn’t keep running the discussions forever), so he created the video below with a colleague who is as a graphic designer. “The original idea was to put something together that reflected the 150-plus small group discussions that I completed in 2011, but in a shorter duration,” he says. “We wanted to show people at AECOM that innovation isn’t just about creating something you can patent. It can also be making our clients, colleagues or competitors go, ‘Wow, I wish I thought of that.’”
He says the video isn’t used as part of any kind of formal orientation program or presentation. “I personally send it to every new new starter in the Australia New Zealand region. In the first week, every new employee has time to watch an eight minute video.”
Here it is: