IES 06.12.19

Briefing:  Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Inside the Executive Suite

(Tips, Tricks, and Techniques used by the Nation’s top Executives… to get things done.)

Looking Inside for Ideas and Innovation

Where do new ideas originate in your company?

We’re talking about the ideas that lead to new products, improved processes, and stronger financial growth.

Is innovation the exclusive purview of senior management? Does a marketing, innovation, or research and development play a role? Are sales, customer service, and other people with customer touchpoint responsibility (including the web and social media) involved periodically or on an ongoing basis?

Inviting the Entire Organization to Share Ideas

Have you considered throwing innovation open to any employee who has an idea?

We’re not suggesting the traditional idea box. Working with client companies that have tried this approach, it’s challenging to find success stories. Typical problems related to this approach include a poor definition of the types of ideas management wants, a vetting process without any visibility for employees, even a few ideas thwarting timely evaluation, and unclear incentives for employees who submit ideas. One company we met with recently requires a skeletal business case before submitting an idea; it isn’t seeing many ideas.

Is Internal Crowdsourcing the Answer?

An article in Monday’s issue of The Wall Street Journal reports on companies turning to internal crowdsourcing for ideas. They use a platform comparable to external crowdsourcing applications; people pitch ideas to the masses, who vote with their contributions or purchases to push successful ideas beyond their minimum funding requirements.

One example in the article highlighted how internal crowdsourcing can work within an organization.

Management invites employees to submit proposals for innovation projects complete with requested funding to move toward development. Management reviews the proposals and narrows the list. Those making the first cut enter the crowdsourcing platform. Employees use virtual money to invest in projects with the strongest potential. The company funds winning ideas with real budgets to advance development. In this example, from Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, the process funded twenty proposals from the nearly forty proposals originally submitted by employees.

Internal crowdsourcing is intriguing. For example, it addresses several concerns raised by a client company that has gone all-in on developing a more innovative culture inside its engineering-oriented organization. Despite strong support from the C-Suite, their frontline innovation leaders reported an expectation from plant management to develop more metrics on idea development. The management request included creating a tighter process with greater visibility and performance metrics at every stage of development. 

The innovation leaders reflected on and discussed the importance of a front-end process with enough space and flexibility to invite ideas. They acknowledged that some initial ideas are so raw, they aren’t even countable as part of the process. One innovation leader is already looking into an online platform to track ideas and accommodate (plus monitor) the fruits of its homegrown internal crowdsourcing.

Pre-Cursors to Success

Does engaging employees to share ideas through crowdsourcing resonate with you? If so, an online search for internal crowdsourcing will reveal the major players, including the provider discussed in the article and the one the client is exploring.

Before figuring out the technology, we recommend that you explore the factors integral to engaging employees for ideas successfully.

Share What You’re Looking For

At the start, company leadership needs to decide where the most advantageous opportunities and impact areas for employee ideas might be. If you are looking for ideas that could apply anywhere in the organization, fantastic. If you already know more specifically where you need innovation or the range of innovative ideas you would actively consider, share this upfront. Internal crowdsourcing isn’t a means to abdicate management responsibility for making decisions to guide the company’s innovation journey.

Provide Education and Development Opportunities for Employees

The client we mentioned earlier has done an outstanding job in opening its organization to expertise from academia and business. Its frontline innovation leaders all completed week-long training in innovation processes, coupled with add-on learning and conference participation. It’s joined a top university’s innovation and digital ecosystem to increase learning in the classroom and through business networking. It holds internal summits to create stronger relationships among innovators across its business units. These all accelerate the fostering of a culture in which employees are prepared to share their thoughts on innovation opportunities.

Senior Management Needs to Stay in Front

Who, at a C-level, has responsibility for innovation? Making a push for employees’ innovative ideas won’t work as a one-time request followed by a pivot to the next organizational priority. You need a senior level innovation champion whose role is clear to leadership and all employees. Task this person with developing the innovation process, looking for ways to enhance it via technology, and making sure all the success factors are in place before the ongoing innovation push starts.

Celebrate Everything

Celebrate innovation successes that deliver results. Given that innovation is a numbers game, those celebrations won’t be happening weekly. That’s why it’s important to celebrate all the other innovation wins: participation, any idea shared, intriguing ideas that don’t work as expected, ideas that turn into other positive developments, learnings and positive culture change happening within the organization from the process. All these warrant celebrations because they are important elements of innovation.

ITES: If you want to increase employee participation in identifying innovative ideas, crowdsourcing platforms offer capabilities to streamline typical challenges. The first step, though, is to address the cultural success factor that underpin any innovation process and technology.


The Wall Street Journal: Companies Turn to Internal Crowdsourcing to Pick Best New Ideas

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