Sunday, February 7, 2010

Innovation from Field Observation - The Xerox Eureka Story

Context

Xerox is a company consistently renowned for its innovation leadership in inventing new ways of working. I know this as I personally spent eight years in the company, and those were some of the best GM and leadership days of my career.

The culture's core values are maturely rooted in business results, but also with a fierce sense of community and history for protecting its flock.

The culture prides itself on innovation, organizational reflection and learning and diversity practices all critical to foster striving to be the best one can be.

Execution is not easy in any company, but Xerox consistently strives to apply problem solving and appreciative inquirty practices squarely focused on the customer and employee experiences allowing it to generate a DNA that few cultures achieve. Despite the organization's face of two near death spirals, it's resilence to recover is driven by the root system of its employees desire to drive customer loyalty, but also because Xerox is not a destination culture but rather a community and home culture. It is very rare to find companies that secure 25-30 year employee loyalty careers - Xerox like GE and P&G seem to have some of this magic that is not easily replicated.

Over time, the company has achieved global recognition and numerous global awards in these areas:

· Total Quality Management, 6 Sigma, Knowledge Management, Collaboration practices, Employee Empowerment, and R&D Innovation practices in PARC, many of which have changed the way people work around the world.

· For example, the iconic graphical interface of the Xerox star was Steve Jobs inspiration for forming Apple and its consistent iconic experiences. The influence Xerox's innovations have had on many product's is due to the Xerox Parc historical roots and investments in R&D. Although Parc is no longer the power it used to be - the impact

Xerox has a core value focused on employee empowerment and there are a number of key leadership attributes and practices to help facilitate achieving employee empowerment such as reinforcing managers and employees to encourage the sharing of best practices, codifying knowledge, all with a vision to accelerate collaboration across lines of businesses, regions, and countries.

The Eureka Story Highlights

(insights from my Doctoral research Studies on Innovation and collaboration)

The most famous knowledge management /collaboration lesson learned from over 20 years of evolving the Xerox culture to achieve these underpinnings is the Eureka program which was started in 1994 as a Research program out of Xerox PARC to help service technicians share their knowledge through the use of a collaborative portal in a searchable database to stores tips and best practices.

The research from Eurerka is likely one of the deepest longtitudinal case study pools of research with over 20 years of cumulative research that demonstrates the value and benefits of collaboration.

Now let me tell you the story.

Eureka’s purpose was to capture knowledge about Xerox equipment breaks and fixes and as new problems were encountered on the job for employees to be encourage to record the problems rapidly as it was impossible for service technician manuals to keep current, and they were continually out of date as soon as they were printed, and failed to include many of the creative solutions that repair technicians naturally improvised in the field.

The Xerox field service organization consists of over 30,000 service technicians worldwide, handling over a million repairs a month to customer sites.

What is interesting about Eureka is that the company invested millions initially in developing a smart Artificial intelligence database, with all the programming bells and whistles…and set up reward systems asking the reps to contribute their ideas to the database to help with business productivity etc.

The ramp process was very slow in the initial stages, and not hitting the business goals and targets. So what Xerox did was something most people do not think of. Rather than cancel the program which was a discussion topic, Xerox stopped and reflected, and said there must be a pony in here somewhere.

So they took out to the field one of Xerox Parc’s cultural anthropologist who analyzed the behaviors of the service technicians, and saw that they made a point not to spend time with the customers after their field calls, but rather to spend time with each other in common field service technician drop areas, where it was the local parts warehouse, hang around the coffee pot, swap stories on their cell phones/ now their RIMS… it was the stories that held the collaboration learning gems.

So what happens when a cultural anthropologist goes to the global www counsel for strategic process program recommendations and says – we need to encourage our talent to socialize more, increase their reflection and renewal time to have time to tell their stories, it is the war tribal stories that seeds innovation and will increase our ability to innovate.

The dialogue was tense at this time. I was there. The traditional executives would say: Cut out the conversations, and socializing time, we don’t have time for this. Eliminate the dead time, and pocket the ROI and cost savings.

The anthropologist we had brought in to help on this program, as I was a senior lead for Canada for the Services Excellence program and also the Canadian representative sitting on the Xerox Total Quality Global Executive Round Table for Leadership Excellence.

What the anthropologist found out and shared with us was quite the opposite.

The tech reps were not slacking off; they were instead doing some of their most valuable work. Field service is not a job for lone wolves – it is a social process and a social activity. Field service technicians thrive in a community of professionals. The tech rep's were not just repairing machines; they were co-producing insights, and observations through language and rituals to explain how to repair the machines better, and faster.

Fortunately, there was a very wise French executive Oliver Raiman who stood tall and said we believe this is the pathway forward to greatness, and PARC will continue to fund this program, we just need time to make some key changes in how the Software design is architected.

He was given 3 months. The changes were simple, elegant and powerful.

The process became one of peer recognition (bragging rights) to tell stories on how to fix things based on personal experiences and allow fellow peers to reaffirm the practice explained or augment with additional insight – like the wiki encyclopedia, but with a thumbs up and thumbs down counting system.

Today, there are literally millions of leading practices that are easily searchable on product sets. Over 95% of Xerox service technicians access Eureka daily now, costs savings to Xerox are estimated at over $30 million annually. Perhaps the best example if of a Brazilian service technician who was having problems with a New Xerox Docu-color product and he was thinking of simply replacing the customer requirement a $40,000 with a new piece of equipment.

However, he checked the database for any tips to solve the problem and he found a tip from a Canadian service technician that described the problem he was having and to replace it with a connector. The tip was also automatically sent back to manufacturing and also Xerox saved costs of shipping in a new product plus the installation services, by simply installing a $90.00 connector device.

Leading Practice for Knowledge Transfer beyone Xerox Boundaries

The most powerful form of collaboration is rooted in natural socialization dialogue practices, and trust increases in an organization’s culture from story telling, and more importantly peer to peer recognition is a powerful motivator to increase the adoption of new practices.

The approach from Eureka’s experiences has helped to shape F500's successful Knowledge Management and collaboration programs… and the breakthrough applied innovation insight was not dervived from quantitative methods but rather from observational and ethnographic methods rooted in story telling.

Story telling power is a core collaboration leadership competency to develop in any company that is striving to be world-class in collaboration capability development and also ensure innovation agility is rooted in story telling rituals.

Other companies like Bank of Montreal for example have also recently invested in a Leadership training program on story telling for all their senior managers – coaching them to take their ties off, lighten up, sit on a stool do not use ppt slides, and simply tell a story that personifies a role model approach and talk about in terms that they might describe to their son or daughter and show they are human and approachable.

Everyone loves a good story. It is what makes us human.

Concluding Observation:

We are rapidly entering the Innovation Humanness Era where the only competitive advantage is the talent of our people, and their core values and organization's collaboration practices unify a sense of purpose and alignment on business goals, both at a strategic and at a workcell tactical level. Many organization's have failed to invest in effective strategy and employee human performance system cascading practices, Xerox is one organization that does this extremely well.

Perhaps the most important ritual we need to re-surface in business is our ability to have an effective conversation. One that is not rushed, one that does not have the underlying current of making a decision yesterday, one that can reflect and appreciate the roots and context to surface effective sense making and allow organization's to learn effectively.

One that allows its employees the luxury of taking a sabbatical to invest in developing new skills and having quality reflection time to explore what is truly important to increase their sense of purpose in life which also increases their loyalty to the company.

The number one competency that leadership needs to increasingly develop in businesses to increase innovation capacity is trust making, reflection and renewal, risk taking to increase collaboration capacity and in turn fuel increased odds of fueling innovation exploration and finding those precious nuggets for market differentiation.

A few questions for you to ponder:

1.) Why is that we have so few cultural anthropologists in businesses today?
2.) Why is that we have so few experts in innovation leading companies?
3.) Why is that our HR organizations investments in leadership development, KM and collaboration capacity development have been traditionally so weak globally?
3.) Why is that our board of directors do not ensure these two competencies are around the board room table if the only competitive edge remaining is simply :

understanding how to unleash more effectively the best DNA from human value networks and clusters?

***
Recent Company Highlights:

· Ursula Burns the new CEO issued a $5.7 billion cash and stock offer for outsourcing giant Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) would put $3 billion in debt onto the books, and more than double Xerox's employee headcount from 54,00 to 128,000.

· These are some of the realities of great companies trying to remain competitive in what increasingly in the communications and high tech market is becoming more challenging and difficult to sustain.

· We also saw last year….Hewlett-Packard’s acquisition of EDS for $13.9 billion last year, and Dell’s offer of $3.9 billion for Perot Systems as well.

3 comments:

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Dr. Cindy Gordon said...

Hi - Thanks for the good tip will check out this reference source. Have a great day. Dr Gordon

Michael Harris said...

Great story on the power of story.

Thanks

Michael

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