The Recipe for Hyper-Innovation

A Success Story on how a company innovated to #1 – Market Leadership, Stock Value, Employee Engagement, Revenue Enhancement/Cost Reduction

Recent GE Logo History


According to Kikipedia, the term innovation derives from the Latin word innovatus, which is the noun form of innovare “to renew or change,” stemming from in-“into” + novus-“new”. Although the term is broadly used, innovation generally refers to the creation of better or more effective products, processes, technologies, or ideas.


At GE, an innovation program was developed during the late 1980’s called “Work-Out” as part of Jack Welch’s drive for better productivity, efficiency and greater innovation. Initially, GE’s Work-Out program was intended to identify and eliminate unneeded processes and tasks that were left over from previous years that became inefficient, as Jack put it, riding ourselves of meaningless tasks “Just because that’s the way we always did things”. After the restructuring identified via Work-Out, many GE groups accomplished their goals with fewer people and with reduced cycle time which drove ever higher levels of increased revenues, reduced costs and greater customer satisfaction & delivery.


The aptly named GE Work-Out process involved identifying an area in need of improvement and assembling a cross-functional team of people together from all aspects of the business (design, marketing, production, sales, manufacturing, software, etc.) to identify a better process, method, strategy, etc. The task for GE Work-Out teams was to meet outside of its normal work environment (and occasionally outside normal working hours) to discuss business inefficiencies and to develop business improvement recommendations.


As Work-Out unfolded, Jack Welch began to recognize that employees were an important source of new and creative ideas that would drive overall corporate innovation. Jack then drove to create a sustainable innovation environment that pushed towards a relentless, endless and companywide search for a “finding a better way, every day.” The Work-Out program was then evolved into a methodology that was created to reduce bureaucracy and to empower every employee, from managers to janitorial staff, an opportunity to improve and innovate on GE’s operations.


From a corporate perspective, the goal of the Work-Out program was to streamline GE and to make workers more productive and processes simpler and more straightforward. From an employee perspective, Work-Out was an empowering program that enabled everyone to contribute suggestions, innovative ideas and corporate efficiency perspectives to make their jobs easier/better and enabled them to deliver higher value to customers and to the company/stockholders.  Employees, in short, considered the program ‘liberating’ and a way to shape their own work-place destiny.


Due to my constant contributions that led to millions of dollars of savings at GE, I was actually asked to participate on Jack Welch’s Work-Out council at the GE Aerospace Division Level. From my perspective, GE’s Work-Out program was one of the most progressive innovation programs ever created (My perspective on having consulted with, and have insights on, nearly all of the Fortune 100 companies and over half of the Fortune 500 companies). The following is my perspective on the ingredients and recipe for a highly successful innovation program like GE’s Work-Out.

Ingredients for a Successful and Well Balanced Innovation Program:

From my perspective, creating a highly successful hyper-innovation program, similar to that of GE’s Work-Out program, depends on developing a balanced approach of delivering both value to company and sense of purpose & engagement to the employees.  The following charts highlight the balanced scorecard that should be the cornerstone of measuring the health of an innovation program. I call this the eight (8) over eight (8) Innovation Scorecard and, if the eight (8) over eight (8) measures are in balance, then ‘the company will be Great & the Employees will be driven to Innovate’. (The left of chart (Y-Axis) indicates my take on the relative imporance of each of the eight factors).

Employee Ingredients for a Successful and Well Balanced Innovation Program:

Employee Ingredients for a Successful Innovation Program

Let’s review each of these eight ingredients of employee Engagement to determine why they are so important:


  • Employees Feel that the Program is Fair & Consistent – Employees believe that the best innovation ideas are supported vs. those coming from the most popular, powerful or political employees. At GE, we felt very good that the best ideas were more important to management vs. the ideas of the most favored employees/managers.
  • Program participation is fun & exciting – Employees actually feel more content with their jobs and participating in the program is “cool”, “exciting”, “exhilarating”, etc. I never had more fun in a job than when I was participating and contributing to the GE Work-Out program. I actually looked forward to coming to work to find additional savings, ‘better ways’, etc. Additionally, water cooler chat at GE was many times about the excitement and activities of the Work-Out program and ‘what teams were up to’ in developing their ideas.
  • Employee cross-functional innovation teams are encouraged – Employees feel like they can cross organizational boundaries to get ideas developed and evolved without fear of negative inter-organizational political or ‘turf’ ramifications. At GE, when we named the cross-functional team members needed to formulate and evolve an idea, management helped ensure that this cross-functional team was on-board along with each of their managers.
  • Employee Recognition & Rewards are Available for Innovators – Employees are provided incentives & rewards for ‘stepping up’ and developing innovations and, as such, are treated with special/extra compensation for being innovation trailblazers.  At GE, there was an array of special recognitions available to top innovators including dinner with senior management, extra cash awards, mention in the company newsletter, potential level increases, etc. As a top innovator at GE, you could get thousand in additional compensation for innovations and going above and beyond the call of duty associated with your normal job responsibilities.
  • Employees ‘Can Own’ Their Innovations if Selected for Commercialization – Employees can see their ideas and innovations become reality and participate in all aspects of its commercialization process vs. ‘having the company move the idea forward without its originator.  The worst thing a company can do to an employee who ‘birthed the idea’ is to say ‘thank you, we’ll take it from here’ and not allow the employee to participate in helping their innovation evolve and become reality.
  • Program Participation is not Onerous or Cumbersome – Employees should not feel punished or overly burdened for ‘stepping up’ and are not made to feel like they will lose any work-life balance for being an innovator. At GE, extra time was set aside for Work-Out and ‘the innovation process’ vs. making it yet another job everyone had to take on in addition to their existing full-time job.
  • Employees Feel Empowered – Employees should feel like there are no obstacles for them to develop innovations and that they have the latitude equal that of the CEO to make things happen to ensure innovation team success. In this fashion, employees feel like ‘they own’ the program and can direct top management to support their initiatives. At GE, employees were ‘charged up’ and were challenging each other constantly to see which group, team, and/or sets of employees could find more efficiencies, greater cost take-out, or better ways of doing things. Once the employees felt like they ‘could change the world’, no manager would dare to stand in their way in fear of being ridiculed for being archaic, a ‘road block’ or worse – an impediment of the program. The “Coolest” managers were considered those who helped support the teams and were also contributing to finding greater efficiencies themselves.
  • Employees are Provided Encouragement & Support from Management – Employees must feel that innovation is a critical imperative at all levels of management and that top managers are involved, supportive and acting as innovation champions and roadblock removers for all impediments to program & team success. Top management must be totally immersed in, and aware of, the activities, successes, progress and top innovations-innovators associated with the program. At GE, we would receive frequent updates as to what Jack Welch was doing to support and ensure the Work-Out program was a success and clearly articulated that he expected all of his management to do likewise. In one video, he stated ‘I would not want to hear that any of my managers were an impediment to the Work-Out program and the employee innovation teams. We will quickly root out these types of people as they do not represent our future way of doing business.’


Company Ingredients for a Successful and Well Balanced Innovation Program:

In addition to the eight employee factors for a successful innovation program, there must also be well thought out components from a company-program perspective. The following chart depicts the company factors and their relative importance that must also be in place to make an innovation program successful.

Company Ingredients for a Successful Innovation Program

Now, let’s review each of the eight company innovation program factors in-depth to determine why they are so important to the overall success of a program:


  • Innovations are Managed in a Knowledge Base/System – In order to keep track of innovations, who originated the ideas, as well as the associated business cases for proving the commercial value of the innovation, a robust innovation knowledge base/system is needed. This helps to ensure that there are duplicate or overlapping innovations, allows the search for existing innovations that can be leveraged vs. re-inventing it for each division, region, etc. At GE, the process was manual and was very cumbersome.  Many duplicate innovations were created, and it was very difficult to leverage the innovation corporate-wide due to limited (paper based) visibility into innovations ‘in-progress’ or ‘being developed’.
  • A Social Innovation Platform (SIP) Manages the Innovation Process – As discussed in a previous blog entry of mine, many Social Innovation Platforms have been developed that fairly and consistently manage the innovation process. These systems did not exist at the time of the GE Work-Out program, but would have helped in managing the process and could have improved the perceived fairness of the programs administration.  Interestingly enough, GE now utilizes Social Innovation Platforms to manage its innovation process.
  • Management & staff are provided training on developing & nurturing ideas, concepts and innovation – Developing and managing the innovation process is not something that comes naturally for many companies. Therefore, in order for the program to be successful, the company and staff need to learn ‘how to’ manage the process most efficiently and effectively and how to tailor and evolve the program to specific and/or changing needs. At GE, this training was more ad-hoc and on the job, so there were many instances of re-work, false starts, and duplication of effort.  We eventually became good at the innovation process, but a good training program would have helped us avoid many missteps.
  • The Program has clear and consistent program metrics, processes and standards – In order for the program to be perceived fair and consistent by the employees, the program must be managed strategically and program governance (i.e. metrics/measured/processes/etc.) must be continually assessed and adapted for further improvement. At GE, this step was lacking and was only done on an ad-hoc basis and by each division vs. corporate-wide.
  • Innovations are Shared & Leveraged Company-Wide – In order to leverage the value of innovations that could be leveraged company-wide a corporate committee should review emerging innovations to determine the degree that this could be leveraged in order to determine the sum total of its applied business value (applied in one division only, one region, company-wide, etc.).  At GE, every division was on their own and there was seldom sharing of innovations between division (i.e. GE Aerospace and GE Aircraft Engines).
  • Rewards and Incentive Systems are Aligned to Support Hyper-Innovation – In order for an innovation program to be successful, the company alone cannot be the sole beneficiary. The company must share the wealth with the employees by sharing in a portion (1-20%) of the value of suggestion (cost take-out, revenue enhancement, quality improvement leading to additional contract captures, etc.). At GE, we developed a program called RAVE – Recognition Awards for Valued Employees that distributed large sums of incentive $$ for suggesting business innovations/improvements, etc. (Refer to the last section of this blog for examples of this rewards/incentive program).  Without these incentives, large numbers of employees would not have participated in the program and many would have sat on the sideline or would have become program detractors vs. advocates.
  • Innovations Are Value and Metrics Driven (Cost/Revenue/Quality, Employee Work-Life, etc.) – It is important that innovations be developed and ranked based on measures that will provide the greatest quantifiable impact to the company. A system of measurement must then be developed and applied such that every program participant is able to quantify the impact of each innovation and compare it to other innovations already in progress toward commercialization. At GE, this was rudimentary at best and caused a great deal of program inconsistencies where some questionable innovations headed toward implementation while other great ones were nixed early in the process. A consistent/metrics driven program would have avoided many of these pitfalls which led to employees questioning the fairness of the program.
  • Continuous Improvement & Change Management Support Evolving to a Culture of Innovation – In order for the program to thrive longer-term, a program (program oversight for the innovation program) of continuous improvement and change support must be developed and employed. The program must be continually measured, improved, and evolved to address employee and/or company concerns, address program inefficiencies, and to take advantage of new processes, technology or changes in regulation or market directions.  At GE, this was handled by a divisional level Work-Out Council which I was part of at the VP level. As a result of writing a letter to both Jack Welch (CEO) and John D. Rittenhouse (the Aerospace SVP) about continuous improvement, I was appointed to the Work-Out council at the VP Level under Al Horvath (Aerospace VP in Syracuse).  On this Work-Out council we handled the administration of the program along with reviewing all of the developing and/or developed innovations. We were also responsible for reporting up to Senior Management on our progress, issues, roadblocks, top program successes, metrics, etc.


An Innovation Program’s Impact on Shareholder Value:

In my opinion and in speaking to many at GE, the company has slipped since the GE Work-Out days in making the innovation program engaging and ‘fun’ for employees.  Insiders tell me the innovation program is more “black and white” now and driven most by metrics and six-sigma measures and the program “seems flat” and “uninspiring” vs. that of the Work-Out program under Jack Welch.

The following chart depicts how GE’s stock performed before, during and after the height of the Work-Out Program. It is interesting to see that when the GE Work-Out program started to change from its original format and lose some of its employee focus (vs. Six-Sigma statistical focus), the company’s stock value began to erode at about the same time. It seems from this chart and from insider accounts, that GE has lost its recipe for successful hyper-innovation.

Potential Influence of Innovation Programs on Stock Value

Case Studies of Success

The following are all real-life examples of Work-Out, Innovation and Incentive/Reward Program Successes.  These samples illustrate precisely how innovations occur within a company and what makes them successful.

A Successful GE Work-Out Example:

Below is one success case study from GE’s Work-Out that involved many of the above principles:

GE Work Out Success Story & Case Study

One of the many Work-Out Successes I identified while at GE is noted in the above graphic. For years, GE discarded their slight used, but still in good working condition, office furniture by paying to ship it to dumps & landfills.  One day, I passed a dumpster filled with office furniture in really good condition that I could use in my home office. I called the local facilities manager and asked if I could take any of it home and was told “No – we can’t have employees digging around in the dumpsters due to a liability issue. Someone could get hurt and we could get sued”.

Frustrated by this roadblock and always viewing every roadblock as a challenge and opportunity, I went back to my cubicle and said to myself “there has to be a better way – win/win for the company and employees”.  I called around to several salvage yards, 2nd hand stores, and several similar 3rd party companies, etc. and to my amazement; said they would love to take the shipment from GE and would pay cash to GE for the furniture and even allow the employees to buy the furniture at favorable rates vs. the general public.  Once I heard that a solution was possible, I called our facilities manager, Bill Biloski, and told him what I had discovered. He got excited about what I had found out and went off to contact the local firms I had contacted. Bill was able to work out a deal with one local Syracuse, NY firm named “The Riverside Shop” whereby GE would sell the used furniture to them, Riverside would then allow GE employees to buy the furniture at deep discounts – a win/win solution for all. Here is a synopsis of the benefits of the Worked-Out solution I developed:

Work Out Solution Benefits Summary

The following is my perspective on how the eight employee factors were prevalent in this work-out solution:

Employees Ingredients for a Work-Out Innovation Success

Other Innovation Program Examples:

Example – Innovations Submitted via Employee Suggestion Program

Above is my suggestion submitted for the “Better Together” program which Martin Marietta used following its acquisition of GE Aerospace. This program was far less dynamic and successful than the GE Work-Out program due to, in my opinion, a lessening of many of the “eight over eight” factors.

Example – Rewards & Incentives for Innovation, Special Achievement, Extra Efforts, Etc.

Above is my award for developing and delivering on a schedule acceleration plan for a major delivery to the US Navy. The Critical Design Review (“CDR”) was acclaimed as a “huge success” and was instrumental in GE retaining (vs. losing) the multi-million dollar Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) contract GE had with the US Navy.

Example – Innovation Program Complimented by Reward Program (RAVE)

Above illustrates my participation on the development of an employee rewards & incentive system to compliment GE’s Work-Out program.  I led this team to the development of what was called the “Recognition Awards for Valued Employees” or RAVE program.  Awards were distributed via this program to the most valuable contributors to the GE Work-Out program. 

Example – Award for Innovation & Excellence on GE Contract Delivery

Above is my award for making the Aegis Ship Software Qualification Tests (SQTs) a success for both GE and the US Navy.   The Tactical Load File (“TLF”) search tool mentioned above resolved some critical software anomalies that would have degraded ship safety and prevented the ship to safely fire its missiles.

Example – Reward for ‘Extra Effort’ and Going Above & Beyond

Above is my award for developing and delivering on a Prime Item Development Specification (“PIDS”) for a Nuclear submarine program to the US Navy. The PIDS was deemed “out of compliance” by the US Navy and I led a team to turn-around the quality of that deliverable into what was deemed as “exceptional” by the US Navy Top Brass. This was instrumental in GE retaining (vs. losing) the multi-million dollar submarine contract with the US Navy.

Recent GE Logo History

GE’s recent logo changes: Subtle changes vs. dramatic re-design & re-invention.  It is interesting to note that when GE was changing its logo from its 1986 to the 2003 design, John D. Rittenhouse, the then SVP of the Aerospace business, told Jack Welch: ‘Even you are having problems with this change thing – after all of the effort to re-design our logo, all you did was round off the corners a bit’.

Conclusion – The bottom line here is that getting innovation right is a tricky recipe to duplicate and all of the right ingredients must be present for the program to be considered 5-star.  If a company does not find the right mix to the recipe, a great deal of time and resources can be expended for a very questionable gain. It is clear that GE during Jack Welch’s tenure, GE perfected the ingredients and the results of the Master Chefs (employees and management) was a gourmet dish of higher profits, higher revenue and higher stock value. GE Work Out Clearly Worked!

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