Birgit Reinhofer-Mitterer

Raiffeisen Landesbank Steiermark

With a background in organisational development, Birgit managed to reach an all-time high engagement level in their innovation challenge

What is your background and current role?

My background is a bit unconventional for innovation: I have an education in controlling and worked as an accountant for some years. However, I quickly realized that I did not thrive in that kind of job. I thus started studying again while working as an assistant to a CEO in a waste disposal company that also did biogas, which was very innovative at the time. My studies were in software engineering and IT-law and I later switched to work for KNAPP – a market leader in warehouse automation. I started designing software processes with customers and later got more and more into working with internal processes. After heading the organizational development department at a local university of applied sciences for two years, I joined Wirecard who was starting a new global tech competence center. I saw how difficult it was to find the right people with the right competencies across an organization with that many hubs around the globe so together with two international colleagues I created the “virtual coffee machine” based on the NOSCO platform to easily connect people and supported the Wirecard Labs with the global innovation challenge. Just when we were about to launch the virtual coffee machine, the Wirecard scandal happened and I had to find another job. I decided to join Raiffeisen Landesbank to try something completely different. My official position is in group organization. Coincidentally during my first weeks at Raiffeisen I met Hannes who was about to start an intrapreneurship program, so I offered to share my experience and network and we quite soon decided to collaborate on launching RLBs internal innovation challenge. 

What have been some of the key success factors in your innovation challenge?

When working with a company in a highly regulated market like ours, people are comfortable with being told what to do and having processes that support what they need to do in order to not make any mistakes. It is thus critical for us to have some clear processes and backing from the C-level. We thus started the project with an executive workshop, bringing all board members together to agree on the project. The way we did that was also new to them, but they were really behind it, which also helped in our communication.

People are afraid of making mistakes, especially in a bank. You need to make them feel safe. In fact, everyone will fail in innovation. There will only be one winning team from our project, but people need to know that there are other ways to realize their ideas and that all input is welcome and appreciated. We have also launched a new continuous improvement process called fast track for small ideas coming out of this challenge, and have made sure that the management level is involved in the decision of these ideas as well. 

I consider our project team as role models for innovation and it is our job to make it clear that the learnings achieved are equally important. We tried to have a lot of fun and to show that it is ok to fail. And we made sure to communicate the failures and the fun of learning to our organization. Our board of directors was also involved in communicating this. One of our board members published a video with him skateboarding in our News-channel on the platform to show that it is fun to try out something new. The caption was: “it is new and unfamiliar, but it feels really good”. This triggered another of our board members to also publish a skateboarding video! The signal of this is really important: that the managers are onboard, and that it is fun to try out something new. 

Focus on the ones that support you, instead of focusing on the ones that tell you it will not work

You had a very high engagement level in your innovation challenge, how did you achieve that?

We had a strong focus on communication, a huge network of formal and informal ambassadors and some nice giveaways (pens, hoodies et al.), but we also decided to break with conventions a bit. Instead of making sure that everyone got something, we let people know that they could get their sample, if they believed in and wanted to support the program. It was up to them to decide if they wanted to support, instead of it being something imposed on them. We also hosted some beer and pizza events to make it more fun for people to participate and get an opportunity to communicate across hierarchies. 

On top of that, we made middle management responsible for coming up with and supporting ideas and we reported stats per department to middle management on the status of their participation during the project. There is a good example from our compliance department. Usually, compliance departments are not famous for being the coolest people in a company, but the head of compliance is a very cool lady and she was a great supporter. She told her department that even though they might not come up with many ideas themselves, they were the ones to work with them later on and thus they should support the program - and they did! They created a super cool video motivating many people to visit our innovation platform and become part of this challenge. 

What are some of the challenges you have experienced and how have you worked with it?

We were quite aware of the cultural challenges that we might meet, as we both have experience in working with more old-fashioned organizations. Therefore, I was highly positively surprised to see how people wanted to participate, and how they welcomed the Nosco platform. I thought they needed more instructions, but people found out with much less help than anticipated. I think it was actually helped along by the corona-state, because people were isolated and wanted to interact. If there was no corona, it probably would have been harder to get people to engage on a platform. And maybe because people were already forced to use new platforms, it was easier to convince them to try out a new one. 

The fact that the platform was possible to use whenever and wherever and even on their private mobile phones, people posted also during evenings and weekends, which was nice to them as systems in banks are typically only available during office hours. 

What are your key learnings from working with innovation and how have you handled them?

I have found that it is important to focus on the ones that support you, instead of focusing on the ones that tell you it will not work. We looked for official ambassadors in the beginning. Our Management supported us in picking the right colleagues for that job and we had weekly sync meetings with our ambassadors who all did a great job supporting the challenge. Quite soon we saw that we do not only have our official network of ambassadors but a lot more people out there promoting what we are doing and motivating their colleagues to participate. Those people who are passionate about innovation are the ones we focus on – instead of spending much time convincing people in the organization that did not want to be convinced. 

Another learning came through working together as a team with Nosco. I see our collaboration as a role model for collaboration. You are not the ones telling us what to do, but bring in your advice and guidance, letting us drive the project. It is not over-managed: a weekly touchpoint, fast feedback via email and efficient communication. We like to see this as an example of how we would like to work with innovation projects in the future. 

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