IdeaScale Nation

JR Simplot: Innovation Is a Process of Discovery

March 18, 2020 IdeaScale Season 1 Episode 12
IdeaScale Nation
JR Simplot: Innovation Is a Process of Discovery
Chapters
IdeaScale Nation
JR Simplot: Innovation Is a Process of Discovery
Mar 18, 2020 Season 1 Episode 12
IdeaScale

The J.R. Simplot Company was started by J.R. Simplot in 1929 and later grew into giant agribusiness company. The company vertically integrated all of its processes; this allows it to control all aspects of the process from production to distribution. The innovation team at JR is in the process of completely reforming conservative company culture allowing their employees to be more innovative. Aaron Lewis and Tim Peterson believe that innovation is what helps departments overcome silos and change the company for the better.

Show Notes Transcript

The J.R. Simplot Company was started by J.R. Simplot in 1929 and later grew into giant agribusiness company. The company vertically integrated all of its processes; this allows it to control all aspects of the process from production to distribution. The innovation team at JR is in the process of completely reforming conservative company culture allowing their employees to be more innovative. Aaron Lewis and Tim Peterson believe that innovation is what helps departments overcome silos and change the company for the better.

Tim Peterson:

Uh , innovation for our purposes, for this program in general. Um, we've just looked at it as the, as the centerpiece of what we do day in and day out. We come from a company that was founded in 1920s , uh , with a founder that had a great vision for what he could do with the potato and the Dyke and dehydrated it. He fried it, he froze it. And we still use hemp product today. So we kind of have the , the core of our value system and we want to bring that not only from products but probably more specifically to , um , to our teams in sales operations and everything else.

Jessica Day:

Tim, Aaron, thank you so much for joining our podcast. Could you each start by introducing yourself and telling me what does the word innovation mean to you?

Tim Peterson:

Yeah, certainly. So I'm Tim Peterson. I work for Simplot for about five years now. And uh , I've worked in various innovation roles throughout my career and really in analytics have been the primary driver for my, for my innovation. So I've worked within data sources, ranging from government programs all the way up to what we do today, which is, which is sales operations. We support a direct sales force and uh , uh, they , uh, need re resources and they need answers quickly. And so , uh, we work at deploying things in the best way , uh , suited to get them the answers that they need. Um, so for me, innovation is just part of the day in and day out work that, that we get to do. Um, uh, for the Simplot company.

Aaron Lewis:

Yeah . My name is Aaron Lewis and Tim and I work on the same, under the same umbrella department. I'm the sales and operations planning, but I do forecasting, so I do some of the demand forecasting. So that's how I support the sales team. It's kinda like what you're talking about when I go to friends was like, that's so cool. You do French fry forecasting. I'm like, Oh, is it really that cool? But, okay . Um, but I think innovation is very interesting because everybody has a different interpretation of what innovation means and what even means to them. It's a very personal, almost question to some people. Um, but the way I look at it is really is a process of discovery that's motive motivated by the willingness to do better.

Jessica Day:

Well, and so one of the things that's unique about your story too is unlike a lot of other guests on our podcast, you are really just getting started. You've done your phase one. Um , but I think it's a really unique vantage point to discuss best practices because you're learning them in real time. So tell me about the program that you've just launched and why you decided you needed something like this in the first place.

Tim Peterson:

Yeah, absolutely. I think uniquely to us with a family owned business the way that, that Simplot came about was, was JR Simplot , um , basically getting into dehydrated potatoes. It was something that. It was actually one of the things that he did during world war II that that helped to buy contracts to feed our troops. So it was like a very patriotic mission. And the thing about it was JR wasn't the person that thought of it. He has an expression and we use it all the time. I'm still to this day and it's hire good people and let them go. And that's what he did with the dehydrated potato. He hired smart people, he hired scientists. I could come up with this and they were able to produce some great things. We continue to see that within our company where it's not just product focus , but we want our processes to be top notch. We want our people to have a voice towards these pillars of innovation, towards the spirit of innovation. And we just want to foster an , uh , the , the culture, if you will , uh , of innovation that we, we think we want to have at Simplot.

Aaron Lewis:

Yeah. And that's exactly right because it's that foundation that allows us to try and do new things. So for example, even the frozen French fry JR pioneered that and then back to, we call the golden handshake. And this is the JR was able to, it was the first one to get Ray Crock by McDonald's to switch over to the frozen French fries. And so the Simplot company has grown up with McDonald's and we have a great partnership with them even to this day. And so it's building those relationships and not even that. So that's still goes even today, the examples are , um, we've built plants. So our engineering teams, they've done an incredible job at building these industry leading plants with industry leading technologies for French fries. We've also moved into with our marketing teams, they developed our roasted vegetable line. We're moving into the avocado categories. And so if you ever had a roasted Fuji Apple, okay, we can do three roasted Fuji Apple slices. They're absolutely incredible. And so we just commissioned a new plant to be able to support that whole , um, that brand. And so innovation is part of our organization and to its core and what is built on. But as we see most likely in a lot of other businesses as well. Innovation isn't normally focus in certain departments and certain roles and jobs. For example, on the marketing teams, they innovate on products all the time. Like we were talking about Tim, same with our engineering teams. They innovated on processes and tools. Um, but the way that we looked at the, our project is what about the guy that sweeping the floors at the plant? Right . What is their involvement in innovation? What about people that are processing orders? What is their involvement in innovation? And so that's what we focus on. So it was really cool is the director that at our, at that time, when we started this whole program, she gave us the directive. She's like, Hey, I want an innovation program for our department. And so she picked four people and it was Tim and myself and Jordan Jones and Tony Baca Iyke and there's a four of us. And what's great about this team is we all had different approaches.

Tim Peterson:

Yeah. It's completely cross-functional. So we were under one director, she already had an idea of what she wanted to see done, but we have been stressing the fact of using a design thinking approach to everything that we do. So the key to that was even empathizing with our, with our director at the time, right. And seeing what is it that you really want to accomplish with something like this. I know that you're kind of handing us the keys and you just want us to turn on the lights and call it good. But at the same time we think we can make this even broader and somewhat better. And so she allowed us the freedom to go forward with using the design thinking process to its fullest, which involved interviews, couple dozen or more interviews amongst the whole team that we have. We started going through and doing surveys all the time about our teams, trying to put them into a UAT so we can start testing through what would be our prototype . So doing user acceptance training. If we had a program and it did this, would that be sufficient? Would that be helpful for you? Or what do you really want to see? Since this is part of an incentive program that we were building up as well. So the innovation was part of the core, but it was also an incentive program that we wanted to roll out.

Aaron Lewis:

Yeah. And part of that approach is, and we felt, I think the most important was, is the empathy stage of design thinking. So, I don't know if everybody knows the steps, but as the empathy define ideate, prototype and test. Right? And so we're like, we need to really understand our customer. And at this at this point, our customer was our actual fellow coworkers. And so we have a customer service team, we have sales analytics, sales planning, we have our demand planning teams. So we have a variety of different types of people on these teams. So we need to understand how that, what made them tick. And what's interesting and I really love about the empathy phase is it reminds me of like a new relationship. You know what I mean? So you go on a day and your first day it's kind of awkward and you have these most absurd conversations. Like, well those are my first days .

Jessica Day:

It feels a little awkward to ask certain questions . Can

Aaron Lewis:

you talk about, cause mean I'll say, ah , I want to go to Europe. And the other person says, Oh, I've been to Spain. You need to go to so-and cells . But it's, you know, you're talking about just kind of superficial conversation. And that's generally how most of our interactions go, are somewhat superficial. But what's important is, is the, as the relationship progresses, you end up learning more and more about that person, right ? To ultimately you finish each other's sentences. Well, I dunno, some people do maybe. But you get to know what makes that person tick and what drives them. And the empathy phase of the design thinking expedites that process. So hopefully you can get inside to understand what's makes them tick really from like, you know, at work perspective . But what drives them, what's important, what's not important to them and what do they for sure not want to do or see. And so that's how we try to approach our survey questions and our discussions to really build a pull that out.

Jessica Day:

It's really interesting because we've talked to a few other people and um , who are running programs like this. And it's the difference between the word innovation, sometimes an entrepreneur, one of our partners asked somebody who came to one of her workshops on intrapreneurship, would you have come to this if this was an innovation workshop? And they said no. And she said, why not? And the person said, because innovation is about the company, but intrapreneurship is about the individual . So your focus was totally on. How do you make this program valuable for those individuals so tell. Tell me about what phase one looked like.

Aaron Lewis:

Yeah, I think that's a great call out. And so as a result of going through all these steps we came out with, there's really the key of creating a solution is to solve those individual problems that we, that were called out and the empathy side. And so there's three main pillars that we put together for our program. One is education. As educating how are you supposed to innovate? Yeah . So potentially in these departments that do this stuff on a regular basis, they have a pretty strong background. I've been doing it enough. But if we're going to launch something, most of these folks have no idea even what that means. And so education was a huge element. Um , the second piece is culture. So if people is not their regular job to innovate, and so now what you're doing is you're attacking on top of that innovative efforts. How do you balance that? And that's where some of the lesson learns we'll probably talk about in a little bit, but as anybody knows, kind of adjusting culture is a big boulder to move. And then last but not least is the means of innovating. And that's probably um, it goes without saying. But that's why we're here because we approach IdeaScale with what we felt we needed to accomplish, what , um , the program, what we wanted the program to do. And so IdeaScale is a great solution for that because of , um , transparency was a huge part of it. Um, a circular communication to where we're going to circle back with and sort of , and then also it's really a peer to peer driven initiative. And so everybody can work with each other on this platform. But that was a huge part of it is we want it to be where these different cross functional teams, we can work to break down any of those barriers and then people can work together seamlessly.

Tim Peterson:

No. And some of the other interesting findings from that was , uh , uh, there's a natural curiosity that we found within our team and whether that's fundamental to innovating or not, it seemed to be universal within our team that they were just curious about what somebody else was doing and how they could contribute to something else. A lot of the reward that we found from them was just having the ability to get cross-functional with people that they wouldn't interact with day in and day out. So if they're not able to ideate and have open ideation with anybody or open, innovate, or even have the ability to jump onto a team that they'd never would have known was forming or had formed. Um, that was the reward for them was just being a part of that process. So we wanted to continue to foster that. There were great ideas that we were coming or that we were hearing from them and definitely wanting to give them the opportunity to show , um , some of their own skills and talents that they maybe don't get to do day in and day out.

Jessica Day:

Right. So the, some of the intrinsic motivation was just to like get out of their silos and connect to other people.

Aaron Lewis:

Yes. Yeah. That's exactly right because we're thinking, okay, you throw a bunch of money at folks cause you hear about bonuses and whatnot. But um, I think that's great about the folks that are at Simplot is they love the family, their culture and they're really good people. And so just that in itself, it just seems like there's inherently, people are like, we just wanted to make this company better and as best as it can be.

Jessica Day:

Well, so let's get to those lessons learned. What , uh, what have you learned so far in this process?

Aaron Lewis:

Okay, so there's two fold. One is has to do with the program itself and being implementable launch and drive a program. And the second one is, is the outcomes of what are these ideas? Okay. So , um, both of them are pretty tricky, I guess you could say. And this is where we're still working through all those details because it's, once again, like you called out as a pilot and there's a lot of learning to take place. But , um, some of the big lessons is how to run it, how to motivate it. And this is back to where we were talking about the culture and then also you're kind of putting it on top of your daily work. So how do you make it to where it's still a priority? Um, so the motivation and then driving the engagement and um , these are the main elements that we kind of ran into. And I think it's almost like , um, change management one-on-one. It really boils down to the leadership and it has to be everybody is bought in, in this drives you toward it.

Jessica Day:

Yeah. Yeah. That's, that getting some of that advocacy from your leadership team is huge in terms of driving engagement.

Aaron Lewis:

Yeah. And that suit. Yeah, exactly. And that's super important. And then, yeah, and, and making it fun. So this is the other piece is we try to make it fun

Tim Peterson:

tell her about her. Tell her about our launch. Y eah. S o we ended up doing a pretty extravagant launch. I would say Aaron was much more o f the mastermind than most on this, but we wanted to make it as enjoyable as we possibly could,

Jessica Day:

essentially is a live event. Cool.

Tim Peterson:

Yes. We've got the whole department together and we essentially produce what we do in , in IdeaScale. We just threw it out into a big conference type room and then even took them outside with beach balls and started doing open ideation where everybody was building off of somebody else's idea, team forming, doing everything that we're going to do in the program, in the process. But having them just act it out, have some fun, play around with it and really experienced that. It's, you learn a lot and you grow from those ideas when you're having a time of play. Right? We've seen that so much from some of the bigger companies that come out with these great innovative products or toys or whatever it may be, be in a state of play and you start breaking down a lot of the barriers that keep you from coming out with that next. Great . Uh , idea , uh , idea or process or, or innovation.

Aaron Lewis:

Yeah. Because we use a, just to be able to learn is to your point, we went outside and we used them. Design thinking is a foundation for everything that we're doing. So how do you ideate and how do you make that fun? That's where we went outside. We had beach balls and writing the ideas on beach balls and throwing it on the team . Yeah . They're all around who doesn't like to do that? You know? And then I think some folks took them home and gave them to their kids afterwards cause they're like the big beach balls, not just like the little ones . But then we came back inside and went into IdeaScale and we create a campaign that was the same campaign about superheroes , um, that we use outside

Jessica Day:

and so you brought all of those ideas that they'd created offline and put them into the system for them to have visibility.

Aaron Lewis:

No , no. Well kind of everybody came inside and had their computers open and everybody logged in and then put in ideas, which were pretty hilarious. And then people were adding onto those ideas. And so it was pretty cool because then as part of this education piece is that everybody, we did it outside and it was fun, but then you actually did it in the system that we are going to work in all the time. And this is, we want to demonstrate this, what we wanted to mimic. And so when it comes though back to the lessons learned, I think one of the least creative places in the whole world is a cubicle, right?

Jessica Day:

It's not the most inspiring landscape.

Aaron Lewis:

trying to translate. Then there's fun environment with a bunch of people into people's daily work. Um, there's definitely a disparity in that relationship. And so that's where the lesson learned comes in to where our next phases, and I don't know if I'm jumping ahead, but some of the next phases will be addressing some of those lessons and that's one of them.

Jessica Day:

So , um, I know that you guys are, since you have to get to this next two phase , um, you'd have to figure out ways to measure and present value. So how are you doing that both to the community members, to leadership to other people?

Tim Peterson:

Yeah, and I think right now, because we're such in a growing phase of this , um, it's, it's engagement is really our key measure of it. So we want to start introducing what this environment of innovation can look like. So just reengaging people or getting them engaged for the first time, somewhat onboarding this thing. So if we get new talent in that this is part of the cultural expectation, we want you to be involved right off the gate. Um , new ideas and mixing it with people that have been there. Um, so I would say our, our, our number one measure has been based off of engagement. Would you agree?

Aaron Lewis:

Yeah. And I think because we looking to move that cultural and education needle. And so I think the idea is , is that once we kind of work through that and they, after a year or two, that that momentum builds up. So imagine if we have this team, which is like six a year , five or so folks. Yeah . Imagine if all of them are savvy innovators or being able to look at things from an innovative point of view and then, well boy that's a pretty big team of an innovation team. And so the input that they can bring in, and especially when we have our leaders to this as, Hey, we want to tackle this problem, and we put that in a campaign and you have the strong team of people that can look at it with an innovative mind. That's very powerful,

Jessica Day:

right? You really distribute the opportunity that throughout your entire organization, the broader you make that.

Tim Peterson:

Yeah, for sure. And that somewhat leads into what are our second phase is. So we've, we've had a natural restructure at our organization anyway, which has brought on our marketing department, which is one of the more creative departments. And I would even say sales operations is we try to be as creative as possible. Our marketing arm is really what goes right out to our customers. They're going to be onboarded as well and brought into the second phase of this. So we can see if we can fuse it with some new blood, some new ideas and go from there. I think ideally, and this is working with that department that we've talked with is uh , we want this to be a one Simplot idea and there's only a select few things that actually make the cut to be a one Simplot idea. And as we've talked about with the environment in the spirit of , of innovation that we have at our company, we really feel that this is giving us a, a pretty clear path forward to make this a a one Simplot idea.

Aaron Lewis:

Yeah. And that's for sure as we work through these phases of learning and kind of build this out, the way we built it for this team I think is pretty hearty , but it may be that same way for each different department. And so I think that's what we enjoyed about IdeaScale. You're able to , um, focus some of the areas, some of the campaigns on different departments and being able to splice it up to where you can have different objectives. And so it'd be really cool that every department really had their own internal innovation. They work to support their own processes. But also there's these bigger innovation initiatives

Jessica Day:

that anyone can participate in. So you can, you can do both. You can pivot the visibility to be for everyone or just for a smaller group that , so that's part of your plan for phase 2.

Aaron Lewis:

Yeah, that's what, that's what we're looking at . Well well that might be like three years, but phase two is really, and this is is for sure bringing on the marketing team, we're looking to see what we can expand or a direct sales team cause that's who we support. But we're looking at some of those lesson learns. What are going to do a little bit differently is we're going to launch a weekly innovation lab and this is back to the education piece. And so really with a design thinking, it's experiential learning is kind of what they say. So you actually need to like get out of the internet, you get out of your cube and then you go like talk to people. Right? And so the idea is that we can use these , uh, design thinking methodologies or innovation best practices, whatever that may be. And you can come together as a team and look at what are the ideas that are posted in IdeaScale. Let's ideate on those right now. Hey, let's go ahead and create a prototype right now. So what's great is that everybody can work together and work through prototypes. They can work through any one of those phases. And so one it learns, but then also, you know, it's a fun time with your coworkers and what we trying to make it fun.

Jessica Day:

I love that you're bringing aspects of both the online like the always on transparent accountability of like a system like IdeaScale, but also the offline like connection environment that's available to you. And so what is it that you want your community to learn through sharing ideas and participating in their development?

Tim Peterson:

Yeah that's a great question. I think really what we want them to take away from this is that they are valued and are a participant in this greater , um, core value of our company. The spirit of innovation is what should be a badge of honor for working at the Simplot company. I think most people that that get a an ability to work on a team that gets coined as innovative in our company , um, that is beyond anything , uh, that that speaks into their career experiences or speaks into , uh, just just their appreciation of being a part of something like that. So I want them to just be able to, to know that we're encouraging them or behind them and that you're as much a part of this as, as anybody else in the company. And in fact without you being a participant in it, we're probably not going to be nearly as innovative or as creative a company as we possibly could be. So kind of that own self ownership of it is really what I would say is my goal for the program. Aaron, you've got a different take?

Aaron Lewis:

No, along the same lines. I do concur that statement .

Jessica Day:

And so what else is planned for phase two?

Aaron Lewis:

Well. So main thing is, once again, it's still really just, it's the education, cultural moving as working with our org structure within our new org structure, having the management marketing and our sales support and then driving the engagement elements. So that's where we talked about we have these cool newsletters that we've been doing, trying to make it a little bit better. Um, but Oh, that's another thing I didn't mention is that and the innovation labs, right? So it's really driving all this engagement, but it's , um, we want to have a contest tube . And so we're creating this really goofy kind of trophy. So, like we're going to have these different , um, so who gets the most amount of engagement in one week and who's gets the most amount of votes or who moves their project or ideas forward, these sorts of things. And so, so the main thing with this is the drive that engagement. So we're trying to do a lot of fun, cool things to drive the education. And that's the plan for the next few months. And then as that rolls out and is really understanding how that progresses has where we're going to move from there.

Jessica Day:

So then you might add more people some more trials.

Aaron Lewis:

That's exactly right. Like it's like a snowball continue the snowball effect to where hopefully it does become an and to where all thousands of Simplot employees can log in and put ideas in. I mean we've had discussions with our manufacturing leadership and discuss what we've done here and they love that idea because you do have somebody that's just on the shop floor that they see things that these engineering teams perhaps don't see on a regular basis. And so it's really pulling in that insight and then making it transparent. Because then what happens is you have somebody shipped one, they might have an idea, but then on shift three they say, well what about if we do this? Cause I see this on my shift. And so , so there's , there's just a ton and ton of opportunity. And so on the next phases, whether it's phase two , it's probably a little bit later than that, but the idea as the snowball this to where their culture of innovation boils down to everybody's daily job.

Jessica Day:

And it's interesting too that one of the things that you're incentivizing on is engagement. They, they, there was a study a several years ago asking like, what generates the most engagement on these innovation systems? Is it like rewarding people for the best idea? Is it rewarding people for the most popular idea? And they found that it was, if you incentivize people to share the idea that generated the most discussion, not only did they get more ideas, but idea quality rose by 40% as well. So it's about, it's about creating like it , getting other people to generate discussion and engagement that can be so powerful. So you guys already know that.

Aaron Lewis:

That's super cool.

Jessica Day:

So let's, as we finish up our time here together, for anyone else who's just getting started with a program like this, what's the most important piece of advice that you would offer to them?

Aaron Lewis:

Well, I'm going to turn to one of my favorite quotes. So this is from the Luna and Luma Institute. They say innovation is not a light bulb moment of genius. It calls for deep understanding and a rigorous discernment. And so we, a lot of times companies ourselves like to jump to solutions. We like to jump to buying some software, but really going through that due diligence of understanding up front creates incredible results just beyond what we can really understand. And so I think for anybody else who's looking at essentially what we're doing, regardless of how small you are, you can just get started. And so it doesn't, I don't think it takes having a big monster department, but it's really having that drive and understanding. Back to what I was saying about innovation, having that innovative approach as you take that approach with the intent to make things better.

Tim Peterson:

Yeah, hard to add onto that. I mean, that's who it is. Um, it's okay to pilot these things. That's , that's what we were trying to stress here. It's okay to start small. Even if your company has been doing this like ours for, for over 80 years, almost a hundred years now. You just start small and see where it can work up, find, do your due diligence, find , um, uh , what works and what doesn't and see if this is something that can be rolled out to a greater number of people. So pilots can work. And uh , in this case it has,

Jessica Day:

you can always iterate.

Aaron Lewis:

Absolutely. That's a , that's exactly right. And that was the other thing that we called out too , was , um, commit to it and trust in the process because innovation, you don't have that solution, so you have to walk in the dark and let the process illuminate that solution.

Jessica Day:

Right . Somebody else that we were interviewing for the podcast was talking about one of the most difficult parts of innovation is patience. It is uncomfortable for people to walk in the dark and the in between or to wait once you've seen the light too. Yeah . So, yeah, I think you're right. Well, thank you both very much for coming in and telling us about phase one. I'm really excited for phase two. We'll have to have you back to , do you know what? What happened after that?

Aaron Lewis:

that'd be awesome. Thank you.

Jessica Day:

Thanks. Both of you.