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It started with a lunch of grilled hot dogs and Crackerjacks. Leadership in baseball tee-shirts handed out souvenir HIT balls. Twenty years after its creation, the Heritage Innovation Team is still taking big swings.
The Heritage Innovation Team, or “HIT”, began as a way for employees from all segments of Heritage Environmental Services to propose new ideas. From a plant employee proposing a method to refine elemental mercury in 2002 to a field chemist recommending new employee onboarding checklists in 2022, HIT has become one of the premiere programs for driving innovation across the company. Once an idea is accepted, the HIT committee pairs the employee with a coach who can guide them through the exciting process of developing their idea, help them talk with the right people, and get their improvement implemented across locations.
And there’s not just pride on the line, either. As an incentive, employees who submit ideas to the HIT program receive financial rewards as well. It begins as a raffle entry just for submitting an idea and a $100 bonus just for matching with a coach but can balloon into a huge windfall. The employee gains a further bonus for each stage of the process they reach – $250, $500, and $1,000. Once an idea is deployed, the employee earns 10% of any profits or savings generated by that idea for a whole year.
As we celebrate the Heritage core value of “Problem Solving Through Innovation,” we spoke with veterans of the HIT program, who told us about how the program began and how it helps the company grow by adopting new ideas from the people who know the business best: Heritage employees.
JOANNE JONES (SUSTAINABILITY LEADER, HERITAGE ENVIRONMENTAL SERVICES / HIT CHAIR): While the program started at our East Liverpool, Ohio, facility first, I was at the program kickoff in Indianapolis. It was encouraging to know our leadership values every employee and their thoughts on how to improve the company.
LINDA OSBORN (DIRECTOR OF ANALYTICAL RESEARCH, HERITAGE RESEARCH GROUP / FORMER HIT CHAIR): The original idea developed by Raymond Wayne [current Public Affairs Specialist at Heritage] was to use a baseball theme where you had first, second and third base hits, and home runs as an idea progressed to implementation. The whole goal was to really encourage innovative thought within Heritage.
HERITAGE NEWSLETTER, APRIL 2002: Haven’t you imagined what it would be like to get that big hit? You know, to suggest that innovative idea for a service, or one that improves a process, or that generates revenue or that cuts costs. Well, now is your chance for the big leagues!
*see below for picture of original newsletter
JONES: When we started this program in 2002, ideas were submitted via paper forms. Today the program and process have been modernized. Employees across the country, in any job assignment, can enter ideas from their computers or phones and are able to be much more involved in every step of the updated stage gate process (discover, define, develop, deploy). The idea submitters’ supervisor, coaches, subject matter experts, and business leaders are all able to see and participate along the way to success.
OSBORN: The coaching team evaluates every idea submitted. Ideas with merit are assigned a coach and receive mentoring to continue forward in the process. Subject matter experts may also get involved as well as business unit managers when it is time for an idea to be pilot tested and then implemented.
JONES: Today the HIT program is also a gateway for process improvement ideas to become Lean Six Sigma and Strategic Planning projects. Employees who initiate these particular types of improvement ideas are transferred to that implementation track, but still receive all the financial rewards as their idea progresses.
OSBORN: If you can allow people to develop their passion, if it aligns with our mission, that’s a great way for them to feel more engaged as well as to encourage economic development through the passion that they bring.
STEVE CLAUSING (PRESIDENT OF HERITAGE TRANSPORTATION / HIT COACH): I like getting different folks’ perspectives on things they’re seeing and learning and bring it to realization. Anyone that’s got an idea. There’s no bad ideas. Nothing’s off limits. It is more focused around innovation. We want to hear the ideas of our team members because there’s a lot of bright, intelligent, brilliant folks out there that can help us as an organization.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
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