How Davey is building a business innovation culture

Published on 4 September 2020

What kind of business is at the forefront of innovation?

What kind of business is at the forefront of innovation? 

Many assume it’s the big tech brands, maybe global social media behemoths, perhaps the giants of business analytics.

Joel Gresham thinks it should be – and can be – Australian manufacturing businesses, like Davey Water Products, long known as a producer of pumps and other water products. Not only that, he thinks individual businesses can drive innovation from within.

Davey is completely repositioning itself not simply as a pump manufacturer but as a fast thinking, fast moving player in the world of water innovation. Joel Gresham heads up this innovation function, which includes a dedicated ‘nucleus hub’ of specialists and strategists. Joel says creating defined innovation divisions in business is something other manufacturers should be thinking about.

“Embedding the innovation stream and formalising its function is something we have chosen to invest in at Davey. We want innovation to be something purposeful, and really valued in the business. It’s not enough to rely on outside ideas, or to forever innovate in small increments. We’re looking at ways to work on some of the big problems in water, and we need a dedicated resource to make that happen by driving ideas and corralling expertise from across our business.

“We’re seeing at Davey that our product teams require a versatile approach to solving problems and coming up with new solutions for our customers,” he says.

“A different way of thinking is helping us come up with new and better solutions, specifically designed with the customer front of mind.”

Joel says the main thing for business to remember is that its best ideas generators are already on the team.

“It’s about recognising that your business already has experts in-house – they just need a framework to support them.”

“A different way of thinking is helping us come up with new and better solutions, specifically designed with the customer front of mind.”

Joel Gresham, GM Innovation and Design

Decoding innovation culture

Innovation culture is talked about a lot, but what exactly is it, and how can it help people contribute to new ideas and new projects?

“What we found is that it’s one thing to know you need an innovative culture, and another to create one,” Joel says. 

“We set out to develop a business process that enables innovation and it led us to what we call the culture code, which focuses on collaboration, data and insights, influence and that real innovation x-factor: passion.”

There are eight guiding factors in the culture code:

  1. Data driven, global knowledge, extreme expertise
  2. Focused customer centred innovation
  3. Collaboration matters
  4. Precise reliable execution
  5. Influence and leadership
  6. Tech mastery
  7. Passion for what we do
  8. Safety, Health, Environmental & Social Responsibility
Lean Canvas

Everyone has heard the term ‘fail fast’ – it’s about getting ideas formulated and enacted quickly so that if they are destined not to work, the level of investment is not too great. “We work through a lean canvas, which is basically a business plan on a page,” Joel says. “It quickly captures the full essence of an idea with emphasis on who this is for and what their problems are.

“For us in particular, working with different types of customers every day, from farm irrigation to large and small scale pools projects, and even community water treatment systems, it’s important that we put all the information we have together in one single plan, so we can assess what the challenges and opportunities may be,” Joel says. “That allows us to get moving quickly and know pretty early on whether our ideas are going to bear fruit.”

Innovation process

At this point, the rubber really hits the road. “This part is really exciting, because as a team we’re all working on ideas together to solve what initially would’ve looked unsolvable.”

“Once we’ve landed on something, we truly know is customer focused and solves a problem, we start reaching out to our networks, and seeing where we might be able to promote the product or build on its uses.

“Now with every product creation, we’re working through these processes and ideas and really pushing ourselves as a team to think outside the box on how we can deliver different, but still much needed solutions for our customers. It’s really a test and learn approach, but each time we’re learning something new that can be applied to the next Davey innovation.”