Energy & Utilities

Swissgrid fosters a culture of innovation in just six months

With our support, Swissgrid carried out an internal experiment to cultivate a culture of innovative thinking. In just six months, innovation became embedded within the company, helping extract creative, valuable, and efficiency-boosting ideas from employees.

Project overview

  • Swissgrid aims to ignite innovative behaviour and inspire employees to develop their pioneering ideas.

  • Through regular innovation coaching, workshops, and access to technical experts, employees are empowered to transform their ideas from conception to reality.

  • Partnering with Zühlke helps foster mindset shift within the company, laying the foundation for future innovation initiatives.

Embracing innovative thinking to transform the energy system

Swissgrid is Switzerland’s national grid company. It is responsible for the safe and reliable operation, maintenance, and modernisation of the country’s transmission grid. As Coordination Centre South, the company has a key role in keeping the European grid in balance.

In 2023, Swissgrid reaffirmed its commitment to ‘designing and building the transmission system of the future’ by outlining a five-year strategy, with a new focus on innovation and digital transformation. For this strategy to be achieved, it would have to integrate technological, human, and cultural dimensions.

Safety and security are top priorities at Swissgrid, and the culture is correspondingly risk-averse, unsurprising given its pivotal role in delivering reliable operations of the national grid. Recognising that this culture had to be developed further for impactful digital transformation to be unlocked, Swissgrid’s leadership sought to foster a culture of innovation and harness the creative ideas of its employees to improve operational efficiency.

‘Innovation is important for every company, it’s not just a fun exercise but a way to generate real benefits for the organisation and its stakeholders’, emphasises Albert Frei, Head of Corporate & Grid Infrastructure Solutions at Swissgrid.

Swissgrid HQ

‘20% time for innovation’ experiment creates a mindset shift

From the beginning, Swissgrid’s management knew that they would need external support from digital innovation experts as they didn’t have the necessary expertise in-house. After approaching several companies and reviewing their proposals, Swissgrid chose to partner with Zühlke, thanks to our comprehensive approach and energy industry expertise.

Albert Frei
' Zühlke was the only company that offered a comprehensive concept with coaching for project participants, recommendations for training methodologies, and even potential avenues for further development of the innovation programme. '
Albert Frei
Head of Corporate & Grid Infrastructure Solutions, Swissgrid

To strengthen Swissgrid’s innovation capabilities without disrupting daily operations, Swissgrid initiated a trial experiment in the IT department. This controlled environment made it easy to assess the impact of the initiative.

We kicked-off the collaboration with an ‘Ideation campaign’ in the Technology Business Unit, inviting employees to share their ideas on how they thought they could become more effective and efficient so that they have more time for innovation. After collecting and evaluating 48 responses, one idea stood out – to allocate 20% of employees' time to innovation, under the supervision and coaching of Zühlke’s experts. The purpose was to find out whether employees work more efficiently and effectively and therefore need less time for their work if they can use the time freed up to develop and implement innovative ideas.

With the experiment outlined, our next step was participant recruitment. Following a thorough review, Swissgrid selected 10 individuals to participate in the experiment, empowering them to pursue innovative projects under Zühlke's guidance while fulfilling their regular duties.

For six months, our experts worked closely with project participants to help develop their pioneering ideas. Overall, our support consisted of two key areas:

  • Innovation workshops: These combined theory with hands-on practice, covering topics such as human-centred design, the double diamond framework, lean startup methodology, prototyping, working with implicit assumptions, and pitching to internal stakeholders.
  • Expert consultations: We also provided project participants with access to technical experts within Zühlke who could consult them and help bring their ideas to life. For example, specialists in areas such as data and AI, cloud technologies, and more.
Business colleagues in innovation workshop
Albert Frei
' The biggest strength of Zühlke’s team was their innovation coaching and methodology expertise. Plus, we always had access to other Zühlke specialists whenever it was necessary to help project participants achieve their goals. This aspect was unique and set Zühlke apart from other companies that didn’t offer such support. '
Albert Frei
Head of Corporate & Grid Infrastructure Solutions, Swissgrid

20% time for innovation

Swissgrid's video describing the experiment. (Mainly in German but with English subtitles)

Partnership impact: embracing continuous innovation

Our collaboration with Swissgrid served as a catalyst for significant transformation within the company. Thanks to the six-month experiment, IT department employees not only learned how to integrate innovation into their daily routines, but also delivered tangible, efficiency-boosting solutions.

For example, one of the project participants developed an AI-powered chatbot prototype to help answer company-wide queries. This prototype has since progressed from an experimental phase, and its results are incorporated into a fully funded R&D project, demonstrating the practical impact of this initiative.

' I never expected for this initiative to impact the whole company and extend all the way up to the Executive Board who have requested that we bring the spirit of innovation to more employees and make it a grassroot-level initiative. Innovation is now a permanent fixture at Swissgrid and that’s, among others, also thanks to the collaboration with Zühlke. '
Albert Frei
Head of Corporate & Grid Infrastructure Solutions, Swissgrid

Thanks to our digital transformation expertise and a tailored approach, we helped strengthen the capacity for innovation within the company and create a foundation for future projects. 

Now, Swissgrid wants to expand the initiative to the entire organisation and cultivate innovative thinking across departments. We’re thrilled to join Swissgrid on this journey and contribute to helping the company reach its strategic objectives.