To ensure that people have time to pursue these side projects, it's built into the company's annual planning process. The leadership team reserves 5% to 10% of the firm's overall engineering hours for these activities, even without knowing the focus of the projects.
Over the years, the program has results in more than 20 corporate spinouts. Most recently, a side project resulted in the creation of Aveillant, which was spun out from Cambridge Consultants in 2011. Aveillant's holographic radar technology — which is being used to control radar inference in the wind energy industry grew out of work a team was doing to prevent auto collisions. An engineer had an idea for applying the technology in a new area and ran with it.
In addition to boosting employee satisfaction, there are other efficiencies as well, Bradshaw says. "These people are training themselves as they're doing this work. They're educating themselves, often going out and finding out about new areas and actually indirectly contributing to the company strategy as these programs are undertaken."
He credits the firm's corporate culture with making the program work.
"We have a corporate culture of empowering individuals very early on in their careers. We take great people on, we trust them, and we empower them. That gives people the confidence to have these discussions, to believe they can achieve something, to not be afraid to bring their ideas to a manager or somebody who's actually then able to make an investment decision based on that. It's very much an accepted and encouraged part of what we do."
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