Common mistakes and misconceptions
There is a growing trend towards companies including innovation in their business processes, which was highlighted in IdeaScale’s “The Crowdsourced Innovation Report” that published in the summer of 2017.
But including innovation in a process is not enough to embed innovation within an organisation, and neither is simply creating a dedicated department. There are more successful ways to bring innovation within organisations, and in order to achieve success, innovation needs to first be part of the company culture at all levels.
In recent years, a large number of businesses have created innovation departments, which in some cases replace research and development departments, or which have otherwise merged with them. Structures of these teams vary, but they are often led by a manager whose role is to support the organisation through open innovation.
If you have a large enough pool of participants – that is, employees – who you can incentivise to participate and help your business, internal innovation can be key to helping you come up with new ideas. So how can employees be encouraged to participate?
There are different reasons for people to participate in internal open innovation programmes. Some will take part for their interest in the business, and others will be more interested in a reward within the business, whether financial or not. But whatever the reason, as a business it’s important to find a way of valuing the time of the participants responding to your request.
Examples of good and bad internal innovation
An all-too-common misuse of open innovation is when companies ask their staff how to improve their workspace. Although good ideas can be generated in this way, it’s human resources, or staff engagement, rather than true innovation. In order to differentiate between the two, there’s a simple question you can ask: will this support your business long term?
Successful open innovation within organisations means using it to future proof your business. It also means allowing it to change with agility, and utilising your staff constructively rather than treating them like automatons.
I’ve seen plenty of good examples of internal innovation, too. In one case, an organisation asked their staff to engage with the customer service experience, which led to positive changes in the experience. This ultimately supported both the staff as well as the customers who were receiving the service. The end result of this programme was that the staff felt valued for their participation, and the customers felt as though they were being listened to. It was a successful outcome for everyone.
The reason why innovation within organisations is so effective is because your staff, contractors and stakeholders know your business in their own way, which is valuable when it comes to changing your current product or service. To harness this value, it’s important to ask your internal participants the right questions, and then reward them in the right way.
Successful innovation within organisations
Below are some guidelines that can help you to avoid an unsuccessful innovation programme:
- Allow executives and senior managers to submit their own ideas on an open platform, as staff may feel compelled to like or vote for those ideas. They should also avoid commenting publicly on their staff’s ideas, as this may be much more destructive than constructive.
- Be scared to ask your staff difficult questions to encourage creative solutions.
- Find a way of reminding staff that the programme is happening, and make it interesting for them to participate.
- Guarantee executive buy-in, or a mandate to take the successful solution forward, for every open innovation prize. The worst case scenario for a participant is to come up with a successful idea, and have senior management rejecting it because it isn’t one of their own.
- Stimulate participants with enough questions to keep them going back to any online platform.
- Allow everyone – no matter their title or perceived experience – to comment. Anyone could have valuable expertise or ideas, but preconceiving who can participate only limits potential solutions.
Formalising the innovation process, and having people managing this process within the business, is key to a successful programme. As the IdeaScale report mentioned, lack of funding and structure can cause problems within the business.
Getting staff to collaborate on internal open innovation prizes can have positive and negative impacts. The positive effect is that people can share and build upon any idea. However, it can become difficult and complex to reward an individual’s participation. An alternative is to Implement a ‘black box’ anonymous submission process, which means no collaboration can take place, although judging can be undertaken by the community.
Another challenge some organisations face is having multiple languages across the company. We haven’t come to the point of being able to trust Google Translate, although we’re getting closer. So it’s recommended to run the prize or challenge in each language, but then invest in translating the ideas into a single language so they can be judged against each other. Otherwise, each language will come up with their own interpretation, which means divergent opinions can occur.
This should be avoided because ultimately, innovation is about bringing people together, not separating them.
There’s no doubt that open innovation within organisations has a bright future, but a critical mass of participation is needed, and that requires a culture change.