"Our Innovation Days are the epitome of the running theme of Sweet Mustard: innovation, inspiration and connection."
Innovate, inspire and cultivate talent. The basic ingredients of the cocktail known as Sweet Mustard, but also the main current that runs through the Innovation Days. But what does such a day entail? We had a conversation with Mike and Lander.
What exactly are the Innovation Days?
Mike Seghers (Technology Coach & Co-ordinator, Sweet Mustard): “The Innovation Days began with the idea of a hackathon in the back of our minds. Technical profiles, mostly developers, that come together, work out prototypes, learn new technologies, and so on. Whereas hackathons are primarily geared towards development, we want to provide a multi-disciplinary complement to such a day, completely in line with our teams. It ought to be an opportunity for our people to get involved with new projects, be able to work with ideas that have been talked about for a long time. That can come from various angles – Design (UX & UI), development, methodology, … - just so long as it is innovative.”
Lander Bouten (Managing Partner, Sweet Mustard): “Exactly, the theme can be very diverse. Sometimes it can be purely technical or process-based, but it can likewise be client-orientated. We want to focus primarily on the aspect of innovation: exposing certain opportunities, examining specific trends and so forth. Everyone from the Sweet Mustard team should be able to find something to his liking on such a day.”
You have had several Innovation Days by now. Has much changed with respect to the first edition?
Mike: “Such a first edition is always a bit of an expedition, of course. How do we organise something like this? Gradually we worked on the formula in order to ensure that the investments also actually delivered something. Such iterations have contributed to what the Innovation Days are today.”
Lander: “In the beginning the themes dealt with were sometimes too broad, and then again others too specific. We allow our people to choose the themes themselves, but try to provide guidance when necessary. The added value is very important. And the stakeholders involved are very diverse. Sometimes it deals with ideas that can make our internal processes more efficient. Consider, for example, a learning management system that will facilitate the knowledge-transfer process. More and more we also see initiatives arising that offer an added value for our clients or provide service for our clients.
Mike: “That focus on the client is, for that matter, an approach that initially comes from the leadership team. And the approach is rewarding. We test the various presentations on a sort of established framework: what is the goal of the innovation, what is the underlying challenge, which methods do you push forward to solve this, which teams are necessary to realise this, and so forth. The propositions thus are viewed in advance and feedback is provided. As such, we arrive at workable themes, something that contributes to the success of an Innovation Day.”
Lander: “That our people can propose ideas and themes themselves ensures for extra motivation. They can take matters into their own hands, indicate what they want to discover, with which technologies they want to go forward... The autonomy, the extra preparations and an inspiring location, these are all factors that contribute to the success of such a day. I think that now we are indeed offering the proper formula.”
And what happens next?
Mike: “We mostly let our people take the initiative. If they indicate that there are possible projects that they want to work on, then we have a conversation. We look into what plan is needed, how much time and budget need to be provided, what are the goals to be garnered and what that contributes to Sweet Mustard. Ultimately we remain an organisation that wants to grow, that wants to help its clients. We indeed try to make that context more clear. But, we properly guide our people in this.”
Lander: “The outcome of the various propositions and projects is very diverse. Sometimes the initiatives can be effectively implemented for the client afterwards. However, you have just as many projects that focus on the better and more efficient execution of business processes, both internal and external. And then you naturally also have more experimental propositions, ideas that can be expressed in a new business idea or product.”
What is your role throughout the day?
Mike: “That can change quite a bit. We have all participated in teams, sometimes we have a more facilitating role. Combining business with pleasure remains crucial.”
Lander: “Checking in with the teams to see if all is going well, giving feedback, acting as a sounding board, …”
How did the Innovation Days come about?
Mike: “It is one of the things that at the very beginning of Sweet Mustard, when it was just the two of us, was immediately talked about: "From the moment the team expands, Innovation Days are a must.", something that truly melded with the inspiring community that we want to be. We are highly conscious of the fact that we are a consultancy company. Team moments such as the Innovation Days then play a very important role in making it very clear that they constitute a part of the Sweet Mustard community. Taking into account as well that such a day revolves around innovation and cultivating talent, and you know that an Innovation Day is the epitome of the running theme of Sweet Mustard.”
How important is it for you that something comes out of the Innovation Days that you can take to the client?
Mike: “Lander was quicker than I was to realise that it is a process of iteration. Of course I have some specific expectations, I am always fostering the hope that something comes out of such a day.”
Lander: “The Innovation Days are furnished by the cross-pollinations of our three pillars. It deals with much more than that which can mean something for our clients. It is an important moment each year, a moment in which the entire team comes together. It is a way to toss around ideas, get to know each other better, a day in which you see projects originating, see things happening. People are literally taken out of their comfort zone.”
You already alluded to it earlier, an inspiring location is very important.
Mike: “It certainly helps to boost the creativity. You are sitting in a different atmosphere, our people don't need to worry about anything. Breakfast, lunch, everything is provided. Of course we also place a few expectations in the face of that. Everyone is responsible for preparing themselves for this. It needs to be a good mix between fun and professionalism.”
Lander: "An inspiring location ensures for a certain atmosphere, a certain context. You really give your people the feel that they are involved in something different, something new.”
Is your enthusiasm sparked by this interview? Interested in joining our team and being a part of an inspiring community? Don't hesitate to contact us, and who knows, maybe you'll become our next Sweetie!