Ask the Board: “Where do great ideas come from in your organization?”

Sandy Nessing

Sandy Nessing

Human curiosity and a natural instinct to problem-solve are the start of great ideas. It also takes a willingness to empower employees by giving them ownership and the freedom to try new things, even if they fail.

At American Electric Power (AEP), we learned that our employees are a rich resource for new ideas and innovation. For example, engineers in our transmission business unit developed a new design for transmission lines that recently was awarded a U.S. patent. The new design requires less land for the right of way and has a lower profile, making it more aesthetically appealing and easier to site. The ideas come from a commitment to engage employees, asking them for help solving real business issues. We’ve learned that the more we get our employees involved, the greater the reward. In 2013, for example, employees identified more than $240 million in cost savings and new revenue. Ideas ranged from renegotiating bank fee agreements to bringing more work in-house, reducing the need for contractors.

I got the chance to visit one of our power plants last year to learn what they were doing to become more efficient and reduce costs. At the time, AEP was rolling out new computers across the system. The plant employees challenged each other to make the business case for each computer they kept. By talking it through and focusing on the business need, they sent three skids of computers back, saving the plant tens of thousands of dollars. They did that as a team. Imagine the possibilities if we could be that collaborative and focused all the time.

About Sandy Nessing

Sandy Nessing is the Managing Director of Sustainability & ESH Strategy & Design for American Electric Power Co. Inc. She wrote and published AEP’s first Corporate Sustainability Report in 2007, and in 2010 published AEP’s first integrated Corporate Accountability Report, a combination of the annual sustainability report and Annual Report to Shareholders. Follow her on Twitter at @Watts4U.

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