As organizations use software applications to: help identify and develop new ideas, find a broader range of views, insights and knowledge for their innovation programs, common questions arise:
One way to answer these questions is to consider the experiences of others. We can consider where software has helped an organization and where effort beyond the software has been required to ensure a successful program. The following observations are most commonly observed our clients:
1) …it increased the visibility of the innovation process – employees can now see where their ideas are in the innovation pipeline, what people think of them and the next steps. This fosters greater belief in the process and therefore encourages further participation.
2) …it increased the reach of the innovation program – employees and third parties can now participate wherever they are in the world and no matter the time zone in which they work. No longer does innovation entirely depend on putting people in the same room.
3) …the program is now inclusive of those WITHOUT new ideas – employees whose natural skills are to help improve or critique the ideas of others can now be included in the discussion. This helps improve the quality of good ideas earlier in the process and rule out those that are too weak more quickly.
4) …it increased the control of the innovation discussion – The organization can now track who has participated in the innovation process and when. This can help with those ideas related to IP and third parties, while also helping to discover individuals with useful and perhaps hidden knowledge and creative input.
5) …it offered the ability to manage scale – Practitioners can now manage many more insights and ideas using automated tools. This brings the additional benefit of being able to identify related ideas and people with common skills or interests thus increasing the levels of connectivity between employees that would never normally work together. The software tool also provides a new repository of ideas that can be executed when conditions allow.
These observations offer a great insight into how software can help, but clearly it isn’t the complete picture; the following helps demonstrate other critical aspects of successful programs:
1) Create awareness – unless the organization understands the purpose and value of being involved and sharing their ideas and views, employees will focus on their normal day-to-day business activities. It’s critical that everyone understands what the company is trying to achieve, why and how they should participate.
2) Match ambition to cultural readiness – every organization is different, its combination of cultures and skill sets make it unique. Some employees will be excited to get involved in corporate innovation; others may by skeptical. It’s necessary to match the ambition of the program to the current culture – if you push too hard or too fast, the risk is no-one will participate. Programs that show lack of ambition in the program may be equally discouraging for those with real innovations to share.
3) Align to existing initiatives – Any corporate program needs to show alignment to other things, for example, its relationship to R&D or in other circumstances – continuous improvement, where employees may also be asked to share ideas. It’s key to ensure that employees understand where enterprise innovation fits to the business.
4) Ensure sponsorship is in place – Each innovation activity needs a sponsor with a mandate to take action on the best ideas. Creating ideas without someone pre-assigned to take action tends to lead to slower processing, lower participation (as employees are unsure what will happen next) and ideas without a home.
5) Build a communications plan – Lack of communication is the quickest way to kill an established program. Employees don’t like waiting for years to hear about progress and which ideas will be adopted, so regular communication is crucial. It’s also important to keep those that are yet to participate ‘in the loop’ so they build belief in the program and join in when the time is right.
6) Share success stories – Success in one area of your business will breed confidence and enthusiasm in other areas of the business. In large or complex companies, its best to find areas where you can be successful and then share those with the rest of the company. Greater numbers of sponsors will come forward, participation will go up and innovation will increase.
Software clearly brings many key benefits to any program and enables mass collaboration that’s impossible to achieve in any other way, however it only goes so far. Software does not ensure employees will participate and produce greater levels of innovation. There are some key process considerations that should be adopted in line with any new innovation tools that will help encourage participation, breed greater levels of management support and deliver increasing value over time. When establishing a new collaborative innovation program, ensure you invest time into HYPE’s top 5 process actions.
In the following article, HYPE will consider ‘communications’ in more detail. We’ll discuss how to build and structure a communications plan that will help deliver a sustainable collaborative innovation program that delivers increases in participation and the quality content as your program matures.
Colin Nelson is Director of Strategic Consulting at HYPE Innovation. Colin is a subject matter expert and thought leader, helping clients engage their enterprise to support existing or newly established programs on Innovation, Cost Reduction and Business Transformation. Recent clients include Abbot Labs, BASF, General Mills, Metso & Swisslog.