The fast and ever-changing human demands coupled with emerging uncertainties such as the COVID-19 pandemic have served as a stuck reminder on the need to innovate. As a way of ensuring business continuity and sustainability, most organisations have had to embrace innovation with the majority integrating it in their operations, and processes.

However, while many organisations acknowledge how imperative innovation is to their operations and success of their businesses, awareness of the approach to achieve the same is an aspect that needs to be amplified. This raises the question how can organizations build their innovation culture.

A look into Kenya Electricity Generating Company’s (KenGen) innovation journey showcases some approaches that organisations can adopt. Since 2012, the company has received hundred of innovation proposals. At the same time, beyond ideation, KenGen has moved forward to making the innovations commercially viable contributing directly to the bottom line. Financially, KenGen has earned revenues to the tune of Ksh.2.6 billion from commercial innovation initiatives over the last nine years.

So how has the company managed to attain these milestones?

1. KenGen’s Innovation Platforms

Just like other innovative companies such as Google that have incubation programs, KenGen has nurtured a culture of innovation and structures within its operating environments to encourage and reward employee-led innovation.

The company has created innovation platforms such as Ignite, Global Innovation Seminars and Community of Practice and Innovation (COPI) whereby different ideas and concepts are born and nurtured to maturity.

For instance, as at June 2021 the Ignite Platform which gives employees opportunity to participate in future developments at KenGen through submission of ideas – has generated more than 532 innovative ideas since 2012, 16% of which are best practices for process improvement while 71 of the ideas are undergoing implementation process.

2. Rewarding Innovation

Reward, in simple terms, is anything given to people because of their contribution to the organization or areas of work. On the innovation front, KenGen has utilized rewards to motivate staff to bring on board more innovations under various categories.

Under this initiative, the company offers the following awards;

· Terawatt Award - This award goes to individuals or teams who implement innovation initiatives that result in new revenue generation.

· Gigawatt Award – This award goes to individuals or teams who implement innovation initiatives that result in cost savings.

· Megawatt Award – This award is given to individuals or teams who implement process improvement ideas that result in turn-around efficiency.

· Kilowatt Award – This award is given to exemplary leaders who go beyond the call of duty to support the implementation of innovation initiatives.

· Watt Award – This award goes to recognize individuals or team effort that had the courage to pilot, prototype or test an innovation initiative that did not result in success but lessons.

3. Creating a Project/Innovation Funnel

A Project Funnel enables participating entities to sieve or filter ideas from a general point of view to a workable state. At KenGen, the company has developed a funnel with five approaches which include Concept, Prefeasibility, Feasibility, Financial Appraisal and Development.

At the Concept stage, an analysis of the idea is done before it proceeds to the prefeasibility level whereby the best project options, both technically and financially is done. Thereafter, a detailed study on the feasibility study is undertaken to determine technical, financial and environmental feasibility. At this stage, a decision is made whether the project can be done or not.

Once a project has been approved at the feasibility point, financial appraisal is conducted and relevant stakeholders are involved. The development of the project then comes last. The final stage is the development stage whereby the project is implemented.

4. Embracing Innovation Leadership

The role of leadership in an organizational innovation journey is imperative. This aspect is what inspires others to innovate and bring out their best.

Organisations can emulate KenGen’s approach through which the company has a Strategy and Innovation Division which has a role of identifying and driving execution of strategic initiatives and growth opportunities across the business through research and development. At KenGen, focus on continuous improvement is key in driving the innovation agenda that develops new ways of meeting the company’s goals and aspirations.