As companies look to develop new and sustained revenue streams they are expanding the resources and activities associated with their innovation programs to form fully developed corporate ecosystems that support and drive innovation. However, these new activities are often not positioned or executed in a way that generates maximum value to the organization. Program leaders are often judged on the activities that they undertake, rather than the actual value being generated to the organization. While the level of activity can form a decent proxy for success in the early stages of an innovation program, the focus needs to quickly shift towards more substantive metrics in order to ensure continued leadership support and investment.
An example of this is when companies train their employees around innovation, and then send them out to practice their new skills within the organization. Success is often measured by the number of employees trained. Unfortunately, what often happens is that the learnings and education from the training are quickly lost, as those employees get bogged down in the daily grind of their existing roles. In addition, the cultural environment that they return to might not be supportive of innovative thinking, so attempts at innovative thinking are quickly squashed. When this happens, at best employees demonstrate marginal improvements in their existing roles, and at worst they get frustrated and disenfranchised, often choosing to leave their organization.
To counter this situation, it is important that employees who have been through any innovation training efforts continue to be engaged and supported by other activities within the corporate innovation ecosystem once their sessions are completed. The goal is for participants to retain their new knowledge and be encouraged to utilize their skills both within their existing role, and also in helping build new areas of thinking across the organization.
A network of innovation program catalysts should become an important element in any training program.
This is where the development and support of employee networks, specifically a network of innovation program catalysts / super-users, should become an important element in any training program. This network should aim to support trained participants, and importantly, direct them towards the execution of ideas that will drive value to the organization. Several companies such as Nordstrom, Intuit, and Qualcomm already manage successful innovation networks, driving value to their programs, participants and the broader organization. With these networks, the organization is looking to effectively move the crowdsourcing of innovative ideas from the front, to the back end, ie more focused towards the development and execution of ideas.
Employee networks can benefit innovation programs in the following way:
Besides innovation catalysts / super users, other employee networks that an organization might support include:
Without a strategic framework the resources needed to support a network can result in an effort that either fades away or backfires.
Before developing any of these networks it is important to build a strategic framework that helps direct and maximize the benefit generated by the network over time. Any employee network takes time and resources to manage, and without this framework the level of resources could be unexpectedly taxing, resulting in an effort that either fades away or backfires.
Where networks are designed to further engage employees in your innovation program, including participants from innovation training programs, the following activities from across the corporate innovation ecosystem might be considered as tools to further engage network members:
The above list is far-reaching and an assessment against your company culture and resources should be made on each activity to determine which are the most appropriate for your network and will drive the most value.
The catalysts / super-users employee network should aim to generate the following benefits to your organization:
Over time the focus of the employee network should shift toward the development of additional innovative ideas.
With these benefits in mind, it is worth noting that these networks often start with a goal of further engaging participants in the innovation program and the company overall. However over time the focus should shift toward the development of additional innovative ideas, with a goal of enhancing the financial impact to the organization. This can be achieved through formal or informal ideas marketplaces, where specific needs for an idea to move forward are highlighted and network members are encouraged to fulfill these roles, for a limited or full time period of time.
In summary, it is insufficient to train employees on how to innovate without a plan to support them in taking their learnings back and apply them in their day-to-day roles. In order to drive the maximum value to the organization training programs should connect participants through an employee network that can ensure that skills and knowledge from training are applied and retained over time.
The next and final paper in this series will focus on a case study of Intuit, where many of the employee-focused approaches outlined within this series have been carried out.
Anthony is the CEO of Culturevate, which empowers employees to execute ideas and inspire a culture of innovation, through employee networks, resource portals and training programs. Anthony is a widely read author (www.culturevateinc.com), speaker and advisor to industry leaders at organizations such as Pfizer, U.S. Postal Service, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and Fidelity. He previously led The BNY Mellon innovation program and has a Masters of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).
Wendy leads the Innovation Catalyst Community at Intuit. She spends her time training and supporting this 200-person community using design-thinking so they can inspire others to innovate. Wendy has a PhD in Cognitive and Perceptual Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, and has 20 years of experience in Experience Design and Design Thinking. Prior to working at Intuit, she worked at Remedy, Motorola, Philips and Lucent.
This series focuses on the increasing trend of organizations to train their employees around the skills of innovation, in order to create a base for cultural change across the organization, and also to increase the flow of idea execution. The series also examines an approach to supporting and engaging employees once they have been trained, so that they can continue to be engaged by the innovation program and drive value to the organization.