The 4 key 'behaviours' of one of Australia's most innovative companies

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Ivy College is one of the most innovative companies in Australia, according to BRW’s list of the most innovative companies.

Ivy launched in April 2014, and has experienced exceptional growth since, topping 100 staff and thousands of students.

Ivy College’s executive director of operations, Roger Burgess, told Business Insider the company’s biggest differentiator is that they didn’t define any “vision and values”, instead opting for a mission statement and four defining “behaviours”:

  1. Be the solution – act like an owner
  2. Impress our students every time
  3. Know you can make a difference to people’s lives
  4. Be engaged

This approach doesn’t lock the company into any particular strategy and these behaviours are entwined with what the company calls their three key innovations: leadership, people and framework.

Act like an owner and be the solution

Ivy College operates an online portal for employees to post, discuss and vote on ideas for the business. An internal crowdsourcing system for ideas, employees are encouraged to think critically about the business, to approach work as if they are the owners.

“You can go and post any idea. We always spruik that there is no stupid idea. And yes we will have a look at every single idea that is posted. We’ll prioritise them, and we’ll try them,” says Burgess.

He points to changes made in the ways staff interact with students, which has changed repeatedly due to regular feedback.

Part of the system is a method of rewards, where employees can reward each other for their ideas and contributions, rather than everything being top down.

“Everyone feels empowered to thank each other, give recognition. And those badges are aligned with our core behaviours. So we have an innovation badge. It’s all kind of intertwined,” says Burgess.

The company hosts an event every Friday called Ivy FYI, or, “It’s For Your Information”. Modeled on similar events hosted by Google, the meeting brings employees together to talk about the business.

“The whole idea is to recognise our achievements. Talk about things that work really well. Talk about things that didn’t work so well,” says Burgess.

“So we are talking about our failures as much as our successes every single week. So that helps us in that whole cycle of innovation. Where, yeah we are willing to try things, we’ll fail at it, but lets fail really quickly so we don’t continue that bad experience.”

Be engaged

“We decided that you can’t make people passionate. So we said, one thing we can ask you to be, if you are at work; be engaged.” says Burgess.

“Disengaged staff are massive inhibitors of innovation… so it’s actually one of the key performance indicators, to have a really high net promoter score.”

Net promoter scores are a relatively new research tool that measure how likely a customer is to recommend your service. The inventors claim that having a net performance score higher than your competitors means you’ll likely outperform the market.

“So if we have really engaged staff, they are going to be innovative, they are going to be engaged, they are going to act like an owner; they are going to impress that student every single time. And that’s going to result in the student giving us a good score,” says Burgess.

An innovative framework

“Companies that I’ve worked for have said ‘here’s your innovation team, you have a hundred grand and that’s your whole year’s budget. Innovate until you spend it and we’ll just see what happens’,” says Burgess.

“We don’t set budgets. We don’t say ‘we have an innovation budget of $20,000’. We said ‘ok, let’s just get as many ideas as we can.’ So it’s a really clear process, collect everything.”

These suggestions are made via the online portal. Once the staff have come up with ideas, discussed and voted on them, a group representing a cross section of the company takes over. Leadership figures are deliberately not part of the group.

Once ideas reach this stage they are categorised 4 ways — revenue generating, cost saving, business process or business model — and then implementation begins.

The company uses the agile project methodology, where projects are broken down into two week blocks. Every two weeks the project is defined, worked on, and either fails or is rolled out.

“Something might be an absolutely huge project, but we will be delivering every couple of weeks,” says Samantha Brackley, CRM specialist at Ivy Institute.

Brackley says there are currently 23 different projects being undertaken internally, ranging in cost from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

Even though Ivy College is new and has the advantage of baking many of these ideas into their business from the beginning, Brackley and Burgess say there are lessons all businesses can learn.

“The simplest thing they could implement is an innovation framework,” says Burgess.

“You can make ten slides of how you are going to run innovation. How are you going to collect that idea? Prioritise it. And then deliver it.

“And you can say, ‘I’m going to deliver it with a really quick methodology like that agile framework’, and deliver it quickly. And record your results.”

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