How Vodafone Built a Network of Innovation Champions

April 18, 2014

Vodafone Global Enterprise (VGE) is part of the Vodafone Group, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies. We’re dedicated to delivering communications services to the world’s largest multinational corporations, as opposed to individual consumers. With headquarters in Newbury, UK, our team of over 3,000 people works with more than 1,700 corporations worldwide.


These customers are quite rightly very demanding. They want cutting-edge technology to support their business, and innovative new ways of doing things to give them an edge over their competitors. For Vodafone Global Enterprise to stand out from the crowd and to be the partner of choice, we have to innovate — to promote new ways of looking at issues and create an environment where innovation thrives.


To ensure this happens we created the Innovation Program, led by Juan-Jose Juan, known as JJ, our Global Head of Innovation. The program is now in its third year. The core team is comprised of three people, split between Silicon Valley and our headquarters in the UK. The program’s success is really dependent on our global team of “innovation champions.” The team’s charter is to provide fresh thinking to find opportunities that can transform our customers’ businesses as well as our own.

How We Assembled the Team of Champions

The team now comprises 40 innovation champions who have developed a global virtual community by participating in regular meetings and trainings. We identify new champions through different means; some are nominated by their business units, some raise their hands, and some are just naturally passionate about innovation and are an obvious fit for the team. Increasingly, we conduct internal innovation boot camps throughout Vodafone Global Enterprise to find appropriate people who have the skills to be innovation champions.


Some of the champions are customer-facing employees. These champions are responsible for facilitating forums and workshops, with a focus on meeting customers to understand and support their needs, identifying possible areas of co-creation and ecosystem development. We have refined this innovation workshop process after having delivered more than 170 sessions that have reached over 1000 senior customer executives.

It’s also important to have internally-focused champions who tend to look at our own product innovation lifecycle and processes, as they are then able to execute ideas generated by our customers during the innovation workshops.

The team members have a variety of roles across the organization, from Marketing Managers to Solution Architects to Product Managers. That ensures that our customers have access to a wide range of expertise. They are selected because of their ability to develop business insights by engaging at strategic levels with our top customers. Overall, the split is about 50-50 between customer-facing champions vs. internally focused champions.

We have an on-boarding process for our champions. We walk them through the innovation program and all of the areas in which they can participate. We try to gain an understanding of where their passion lies. We want to make sure that we’re helping the champions’ careers while at the same time providing value to our customers. Often this first part is virtual, via phone or video conference.

How We Collaborate

To foster a global champion community, we host bi-weekly virtual team meetings. On these calls we provide updates, facilitate conversations, solicit feedback, and bring in experts from various parts of the business that would normally be hard to connect with, such as people from R&D or the ventures group. These experts provide insight into future developments, concepts the champions can then discuss with our customers. Our champions, in return, can provide feedback to the business about what’s on our customers’ minds. In this way, the champions get access to information that others in the organization might not. We ask the innovation team if there are specific challenges they’re seeing. Are there trends we need to address? To continue an ongoing, global conversation, we have created a closed community on our internal social media platform, Chatter. This provides a safe space for the champions to share their thought-provoking questions and sometimes radical ideas.


Recently, we embraced the concept of gamification for the champion program. We asked the champions to hit certain targets, with each goal having a certain number of points. There were prizes for top performers. For instance, the champion who conducted the most innovation workshops with customers was granted a 30-minute phone call with a senior executive and an Amazon gift card.

We conduct regional get-togethers for the champions, as opposed to one big global gathering, because the champion team is truly dispersed around the world, from Singapore to Nairobi to New York. These team-building sessions are a bit opportunistic, as we host them when one of our central team members is in region. As all innovation relies on personal connections, these team-building sessions are important to the success of the program.


Metrics, Impact, and the Future of the Program

One thing we were conscious of was the number of champions we appointed. This kind of engagement is very personal. You want to be sure you can maintain the relationships and retain top talent to ensure our customers are being supported by the best. With too large a champion team, it’s possible to dilute the impact with our customers and lose those personal connections.


To demonstrate the effectiveness of the program, we measure a number of key indicators. We track attendance and participation across the different aspects of our innovation community engagements. Two of the most important indicators for us are the number of customer innovation workshops each champion delivers and the impact they have had on our customers’ business. We also track how regularly each champion participates in Project Champagne, our internal prototype testing program.

People throughout Vodafone Global Enterprise recognize that the insights the champions bring to our customers are extremely valuable. As a consequence of this, our senior executives fully support the innovation champions spending roughly 20 percent of their time on innovation activities, taking part in out-of-the-box initiatives.


Being a champion also provides an opportunity to develop new skills and gain exposure to senior leadership. We believe this provides benefits both to the champions, who can further their careers in their own desired directions, as well as to the business by retaining the best of the best.

Looking forward, we are exploring radical new ideas for the champion program, like innovation sabbaticals in Silicon Valley; additional programs with leading design thinking organizations; and potential partnerships with leading global universities. We recognize that we could not effectively deliver a best-of-breed innovation program for our customers without the support of the innovation champion team.

More info: Here’s the site for Vodafone Global Enterprise’s Innovation Group, which includes videos and several case studies of VGE’s work with customers.


Shannon Lucas is Senior Innovation Manager, Vodafone