Innovating means thinking differently

At a morning session dedicated to innovation in HR organized by Sopra HR Lab, Patrick Plein, director of digital working at Academy VINCI shared his feedback on the Group’s approach to innovation.  

Could you tell us about your group and what your job is and then describe the role of innovation in your company?

I am in charge of digital working and Academy VINCI. I am also the HR Director at the headquarters of the group’s holding company, which includes about 300 employees. The group has 200,000 employees and revenues of over 40 billion euros and a net result of over 2 billion. Our group is based on construction (construction and public works, roads, energy) and infrastructures (motorways, airports, railroads and stadiums). New technologies have a great impact on all our lines of business and we need to keep our skills within the company in line with the major developments within our sector. 20 years ago we launched an Innovation award to encourage our employees to take initiatives. Every two years, we receive and process nearly 3000 proposals from employees designed to improve our products and services and our methods. This allows us to develop innovation on a continuous basis.

What do you do within the company to deal with digital transformation?

4 years ago, we understood that we had to work towards developing our corporate culture so we could implement the current major developments. We need to change how we think so that we can engage our employees more. All our Academy programs work towards this goal.

In the Executive Program, for example, our directors can make proposals based on the new challenges facing the group. We thus created a place dedicated to innovation, called “Léonard”. It allows us to focus on our challenges, create startups and develop intrapreneurship. We are working on subjects such as climate resilience, driverless cars and AI.

Another example: our “Management Forum” is a seminar for future leaders. The members of the Comex present the group’s activities at the Forum. A learning expedition is then organized. Its goal is to produce new business ideas for the group. To help us, we have Create Rocks, a startup that specializes in developing intrapreneurial projects in companies.

What is the key to a successful transformation project?

A successful project requires favorable conditions and an encouraging ecosystem. Our Management Forum is meant to help future leaders in the group, those who will rethink our activities based on the technological advances and business challenges that we are facing. They have to feel comfortable enough to be able to criticize our way of doing things.

We need to change our mindset. We are a traditional company and we have look into how we can implement transformation. We are thus changing our routines and how we do things, by implementing methods that often come from startups.

Isn’t the gap in the methods used by large corporations and those used by startups too big for them to be able to work together?

Corporations and startups do not always work together successfully. Corporations need to be very open-minded to be able to get away from using traditional methods. Startups don’t always implement such traditional methods. We need to think ‘out of the box’. We need to provide opportunities for people with ideas that meet a need. We launch a product and then improve on it. We are entering period of experimentation, of ‘testing and learning’, where the word failure doesn’t exist. Taking risks – controlled risks, that is – allows us to sometimes save a lot of time.

Is innovation a question of timing?

Startups and corporations have very different ideas on timing. If we don’t act quickly enough, the startups won’t give us their innovation. Startups need to move fast and bill fast. We have to adjust our time to that of the startups. However, even if a startup wants to act quickly, it still needs to adapt to the corporation’s environment and find ways to make the project work. Corporations should provide their input, but without getting bogged down trying to find a solution. You have to trust and let things get done. Done is better than perfect!