How citizen-led innovation can change a workforce from the inside out
Amazon’s doing it. So is AT&T. And likely your company is, too — investing in ambitious upskilling programs to help grow the business. With 79% of CEOs saying a lack of key skills is threatening the future growth of their organization, it’s easy to see why. But will these efforts yield the payoff you expect?
Here’s one way to boost the odds: it’s called citizen-led innovation, an approach built around equal parts leadership and employee crowd-sourcing. It’s part of our investment of $3 billion to upskill our entire global network and develop and share technologies to support clients. We’ve seen firsthand that our unique, people-led approach works — and believe that without it, you simply can’t deliver the innovation, productivity and change at scale you’re after.
Consider a recent financial statement audit: Over the course of the year, as we conducted our planning, risk assessment, testing, and so on, our team of auditors was continually looking for ways to tackle their work and save their clients’ time through automation technology. No one gave them a task list or told them where to focus. But what they did have was the skills and license to take their new-found expertise in building bots, automated workflows, and data visualizations and use them to solve day-to-day pain points. The result? Thirty-three automations built for their unique work environment, including several envisioned and created by junior staff members. That’s a single team.
Now imagine what a company could do if every team had the skills and empowerment to innovate in such a meaningful way every day, and to share those inventions across the entire organization.
This people-led approach is at the heart of the digital journey unfolding with our own employees. And we’re getting results: a year into the program, 95% of our 55,000 US partners and staff are using our digital tools and platforms to learn, create and crowd-source. They’ve invented more than 1,500 bots, visualizations and AI models, shaving a million hours of repetitive work. With that time, they’re able to redirect those hours to the part of their job they love most: helping our clients solve their biggest problems.
So what exactly is citizen-led innovation? And what makes it a breakthrough approach that gets results? Here’s a closer look.
In a nutshell, this approach starts with leading in a way that inspires people to want to boost their knowledge and skills. And it’s about giving people the autonomy to apply their learning right away in their day-to-day work, so it feels meaningful and relevant.
We like to think of our approach as a three-step process: up-knowledge, upskill and up-perform. Here’s how it works: Business leaders set the direction and goals, and provide the training, tools, and resources for people to learn and apply their skills. People then “up-knowledge” by increasing their awareness and understanding of new information as work changes, and “upskill” by applying their new knowledge and skills right away. With leadership guidance in place, employees are free to take the lead on innovating, building, sharing and test-driving solutions. They get excited to share solutions, and that enthusiasm gets other people invested. Change spreads quickly across the organization, helping to achieve efficiencies at scale, or “up-perform.” In our firm, for example, we’ve seen more than 3,200 contributions to our Digital Lab, a collaboration platform where people are crowd-sourcing and sharing solutions they’ve built themselves, like bots and automated workflows.
Nothing is mandated or required. Instead, it’s about giving people the resources and the parameters to shake things up from within. They have the power of choice — to decide what learning methods work best for them, and how much they want to opt-in. For one person, that might mean taking twenty minutes out of their day to listen to a podcast on blockchain or learn on the go through our Digital Fitness app. For another, it might mean joining one of our accelerator programs. And they don’t need to ask permission to invent a solution to a problem. For example, a consulting team recently helped a client shorten a manual process from two or three hours to less than five minutes. Not only did they automate a time-draining task, but they also improved the quality of their work by helping reduce the risk of human error from copying data from one place to another and freed up time to focus on higher-value work.
73% of employees say they know of systems or technology that would help them produce higher quality work
Here's another great aspect of this approach: People become emotionally committed. They want to get involved. They see more purpose in learning new skills and experimenting with different ways of working. They help create change while making their jobs better—73% of employees say they know of systems or technology that would help them produce higher quality work. That emotional engagement helps make this change lasting and sustainable, rather than a short-term initiative with limited impact.
When people think about upskilling, they often jump to the idea that it’s about preparing people for new roles as automation, AI and other technologies take hold. But a people-led approach isn’t about reducing headcount or moving people to other jobs—it’s about helping them grow with their jobs. People end up being more knowledgeable, but not in a way that will be dated in three years. Instead, they're infinite learners – opting into a program that helps them keep learning and growing as work changes and evolves. In a way, they’re writing their own roles for the future.
Let’s be clear: this approach isn’t a free-for-all. It’s not about employees doing whatever they want or learning for the sake of learning. Instead, it’s a blend of thoughtful leadership, business and financial strategy, relevant tools and compelling incentives that tap into what people want and how they prefer to work. It’s about helping the business get people to work the way they need to while also helping employees develop the skills they need in order to help stay relevant as work changes.
Crowd-sourced answers to real problems that you can reuse and scale. People who can innovate on the ground to solve problems immediately. A team ready and eager to learn, and keep learning, as work changes. A citizen-led approach can deliver this and more.
To companies that have struggled to see the business impact of their upskilling programs — such as stronger tech adoption, improved efficiencies, higher employee retention rates, and a workforce equipped with the digital skills you need — these results may sound like a fantasy. But we know it can happen. We’ve seen it. And we’re excited to help other organizations put it to work for themselves.
Let us show you what is possible and work side by side with you to help implement solutions that will enable and empower your talent and organization’s performance to deliver lasting, differentiated value.