Fostering Employee Innovation: Insights From a 150-Year-Old Company

The larger a company is, the more complex it gets to manage and drive innovation initiatives that aim to involve all employees. It can be even more challenging if the company and all its organizational structures are the product of many decades of growth. Sometimes you cannot simply copy and paste what the shining Silicon Valley examples with only a couple of years of history are doing. You have to find your own system to leverage the potential of your employees for innovation. That is exactly what Bayer AG did.

In a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, Monika Lessl (VP and Head of Corporate Innovation and R&D), Henning Trill (Head of Corporate Innovation), and Julian Birkinshaw (Deputy Dean London Business School) talk about their efforts of building an Agile Network for innovation. Not only for the people directly responsible for new technologies or products, but for all of the 100,000+ employees. To make this possible, Bayer made the decision to launch the platform WeSolve in 2014. This internal idea forum is a way of “challenging Bayer employees to contribute solutions to specific technical or commercial problems”. Together with an informal network of innovation ambassadors and innovation coaches, Bayer laid the foundation for a company-wide innovation culture. With several different innovation initiatives across 70 countries, Bayer has also implemented an online hub called Youniverse where all innovation activities are consolidated.

“The key point is the network has now reached a critical mass, making our job at the center much easier. We have a waiting list of about 200 people who want to become innovation coaches. This allows us to be selective about who takes on the role. We get them involved informally at first and talk to their line managers to make sure they can add this work to their existing responsibilities.”

This leads to the first of Bayer’s three key insights: Innovation is a social activity, and connectivity is an asset. Furthermore, they implemented a dual-speed model where employees work on fast-cycle projects in addition to their slower paced daily business work. Last but not least, the agile networks and the portfolio of activities to support it, Bayer sees the importance of the next step: institutionalizing the new behaviors across the company.

We are super proud to be a part of Bayer’s innovation journey as a software partner for different innovation platforms for some time now. Keep innovating!

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