Innovation with Employees
- Use Cases
- Innovation done right
01 Executive Summary: Key Facts at a Glance
- The relevant knowledge for innovation is not tied to the responsible position in the company. All departments and hierarchical levels can provide impulses and solutions with their expertise.
- Collaboration across departmental boundaries and hierarchies is the best way to generate ideas faster, find solutions, and implement concepts.
- The simplest way for collaborative innovation management with employees is an innovation campaign where employees submit ideas discuss and evaluate ideas and solutions to a particular question.
- Innovation Funding extends the classic innovation campaign with virtual crowdfunding. Ideas compete for resources and will be endowed with the funding goals and implemented by the idea generator.
- Solution Scouting enables employees to contribute ideas, initiate questions or campaigns themselves, and find people with the right knowledge in the company.
- Regardless of which method is implemented in practice, the corporate culture is crucial to success.
02 Why All Employees Should Drive Innovation
The image of the ingenious inventor, who alone is developing the next breakthrough for the company behind closed doors, has long been obsolete. In response, many methods and recommendations have emerged on working in innovation management and product development as teams with distributed knowledge. But here, too, we are increasingly reaching our limits. Firstly, speed is becoming an increasingly important success factor. This often conflicts with classic product development’s rigid, small-scale process steps. Further, the growing complexity of products, services, and processes makes it increasingly difficult to unify all relevant competencies in a single person or a dedicated team.
Of course, this does not mean that all previous methods and approaches are losing importance. Organizational units that explicitly deal with innovation or new technologies will continue to play a fundamental role. Instead, it is about how these areas are linked and how they open up to knowledge and ideas. Especially when it comes to highly specialized know-how or customer insights, the experts usually find themselves where the technologies are worked daily, for example, in their production lines or in customer service who talk to customers regularly. Although they have this valuable knowledge, these employees usually have no direct influence on developing new products and offers.
To anchor such an understanding comprehensively, you need the appropriate channels through which the employees can contribute and a corporate culture that truly encourages this. If this knowledge is left unused, there is a great risk that good ideas will be overlooked. At the expense of efficiency, even new solutions will be sought out within the separate innovation teams that already exist elsewhere. Conversely, this also means that employees from across the organization should take responsibility for innovation and the future development of the business.
03 Accelerate Innovation through Collaboration
Especially in large companies, the problem is not a lack of good ideas and concepts but a matter of speed. Innovative approaches bring little added value if a competitor with a similar offer enters the market faster. Looking at the path from the first idea to the finished product, you can see four essential aspects determining how quickly you can achieve marketable, innovative results.
- The frequency with which innovative ideas and concepts emerge
- The reliability with which relevant approaches are recognized early
- The speed with which solutions are found in the company
- The time it takes to develop testable prototypes from ideas
Collaboration in innovation projects across departments and hierarchies starts from all four points. Bringing in the right people with the proper knowledge in the right place can speed up the whole business.
Also, idea management no longer has to be a closed system whose processes are limited to the interaction between the idea generator and the reviewer. The world around us is becoming increasingly networked, and digital communication technologies are making the collaboration of many individuals on a joint project easier. So why not use these benefits in idea management? Thus, submitted ideas no longer need to be formulated in detail from the beginning. Collaboration within the community on the platform makes it possible to discuss the proposals and develop them further before an expert evaluates them. Where there used to be pre-defined criteria defining the progress of proposals, today, the community acts as a sort of filter to separate good and bad ideas early on. As a result, the good ideas have more time and space to develop their potential and, in addition, benefit from the expertise of other employees, who now can be integrated into large numbers.
04 Increase the Quantity and Quality of Ideas
On the other hand, overloaded bonus systems could mean that every matter-of-factness is sold as an idea over time. This often results in a colossal idea backlog because the reviewers can no longer process and evaluate many small ideas. This leads to long waiting periods and uncertainties, which reduces the motivation to submit a proposal at all.
- Motivate employees to submit through good usability
- Improve the quality of proposals through collaboration
- Collect targeted solutions with campaigns
- Convince through transparency in the process
Smart and digital idea management is, therefore, characterized by processes and functions that counteract these developments. To increase the quality of the proposals, exchange within and between the departments has to be stimulated. That way, all employees can collaborate using the platform to discuss, network, or build teams to develop an idea together. Experts and coaches for specialized departments can support the employees with their expertise or even give, through campaigns, specific instructions on what the proposed solutions should look like. Additionally, the software itself has a significant influence. Intelligent features, for example, allow automated comparison with existing ideas in the database. Thus, the platform is not just a submission channel. It also enables employees without their ideas to get involved in existing projects or overview the company’s current innovation initiatives. Even more important, however, is user-friendliness. The lower the hurdles of participation and the more transparent the current status of the ideas, the more people will find themselves taking on responsibility for their ideas and driving them to implementation.
05 Proactively Involve Employees with Innovation Challenges
Tendering a campaign or challenge where employees submit ideas on a particular question or technology area is now widespread. Instead of just hoping that employees in the company have good ideas and are transferred to the right places, Innovation Challenges proactively looks for ideas within a clearly defined period. Essentially, these innovation challenges are comparatively simple:
- Topics and questions are defined in innovation management
- The Innovation Challenge is announced, and employees are invited
- Employees can submit their ideas and suggestions on a platform
- The most promising submissions are selected, e.g., by a jury
- The selected ideas are implemented, and the ideators are awarded
Within these general steps, there is plenty of room for collaboration opportunities. For example, open discussions during the submission can help specify and prioritize the ideas. The same applies to the evaluation of the proposals. Why should only a jury of selected people be able to give qualified feedback? And even during and after implementation, all employees should have the opportunity to stay up to date or make further suggestions for improvement. The right digital tools and methods are crucial to successfully implementing such comprehensive innovation challenges in a structured and goal-oriented manner.
06 Idea Management? Innovation Management? Both.
There are two ways of managing ideas in the corporate context – idea management and innovation management. Sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably, although they are quite different despite some similarities. When it comes to idea management, the type and content of the proposals are entirely open. These are mostly concepts for internal process or product improvements that are already well developed and can be implemented immediately. On the other hand, Innovation Management describes all measures aimed at increasing the innovative strength of a company. This includes the development of new products, services, or business models. Here, the ideas are not ready-made solutions but must be gradually refined and elaborated.
However, this definitional separation does not play a significant role for the employees. In the brainstorming phase, the focus is on the creative process rather than whether it is an improvement or an innovation. For the employees, there is no clear separation, and that makes sense because the transitions are, in fact, fluid. Modern idea management and innovation management complement each other and are mutually dependent. Ideally, there is a single point of contact for all proposals, followed by the various initiatives. The employee enters his idea into the system and, depending on the type, content, and degree of maturity is then led by the software towards the relevant measure. This way, efficiency losses can be intelligently avoided, but a holistic approach with the appropriate tools is required that brings idea management and innovation management together on one platform.
07 Innovation Funding: Crowdfunding with Employees
When it comes to putting good ideas into action quickly, few approaches are more efficient than crowdfunding. What individuals or small startup teams have been doing successfully on platforms such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo for several years can be implemented in a similar way in the company with their employees. We speak of Innovation Funding when we apply crowdfunding with employees. Thus, innovative ideas and project plans of the employees are not only proposed and discussed but also supported with virtual budgets. Ideas that reach their funding goals will be provided with actual resources and realized by the teams. Idea generation, prioritization and implementation mesh even more closely. The strong focus on the realization of the projects makes Innovation Funding the perfect digital extension of existing Accelerator or Entrepreneurship programs.
08 Solution Scouting: Connect Knowledge in the Company
“If only we knew what we all know.” These or similar proverbs exist in almost every company. However, what is jokingly meant at first glance illustrates one of the most present problems in large companies. In many cases, there is a lack of channels and structures that would make the expertise of individual employees usable for challenges or tasks outside the immediate area of activity. Especially when employees time-consumingly develop new solutions that already exist in a similar form in another place in the company, much efficiency and speed are lost—the key is to connect the company’s accumulated knowledge. With Solution Scouting, employees who are looking for specific expertise or solutions have the opportunity to initiate an innovation challenge and specifically address the people with the relevant competencies. But Solution Scouting does not just help find knowledge and solutions in the company. With the right tools, the results of the individual questions converge at a central point and are processed there. This database of solutions is searchable for future challenges and can use intelligent analytics to actively channel relevant information to the right people.
09 Innovation Award: Create Visibility for Successful Employee Innovation
Central to a cross-organizational culture of innovation is promoting employees’ ideas and innovations and making them visible. Establishing an Innovation Award is an effective way to anchor the importance of innovation more firmly in employees’ minds. An award offers employees the opportunity to present their ideas and, at the same time, underlines the importance of employees within innovation processes.
There are various evaluation options for selecting the best ideas, such as an expert panel, a management decision, a crowd voting by the employees, or a combination of the three. At the beginning of the process, a quality check ensures that the evaluation is carried out in a time- and cost-saving manner. Additionally, the competitive conditions – a typical characteristic of an award – positively affect the quantity and quality of the proposals. However, the biggest advantage of the Innovation Award lies in the increased motivation that arises when employees receive public recognition for their performance and are allowed to participate in the development of the company. Employee participation does not have to take place exclusively through the generation of ideas, though, but employees can contribute their knowledge within the evaluation process in the form of votes. The following applies: employees can only be permanently mobilized to think about innovation if generating and evaluating ideas are transparent, understandable, and based on participation.
10 Establish the Right Culture in the Company
The described characteristics of collaborative innovation with employees do not start at a single point in the company. These are methods intended to advance the entire company or much of it. Correspondingly, there are also many intersections with different divisions and existing initiatives. To implement innovation with employees of this size, the right corporate culture is crucial to success. Collaboration, an open exchange of information, and shared responsibility for the company’s future should be firmly anchored in the minds and actions of employees. Of course, that does not mean that you first have to master a complete cultural change. The change goes hand in hand with the use of new methods.
The best way to attract employees to these new methods and approaches is to harness them and make the benefits come alive. In this sense, the methods and the appropriate tools are also valuable vehicles to support a broad cultural change. They are linking separate company divisions more strongly to the organization. For this to work, new methods and initiatives for innovation with employees should also be planned accordingly in the long term and strategically anchored as an organization-wide measure.
11 Best Practice for a Digital and Smart Idea Management
Our best practice for digital and smart idea management also demonstrates this: Munich Airport increased employee participation and motivation with a digital ideas tool. The ability to collaborate and discuss on the platform also enhanced the quality of the ideas.
12 Best Practice for Successful Innovation Management
13 the Right Software for Innovation with Employees
Collaboration and new methods in innovation management with many employees can only be implemented with the right technology. There are a variety of different software solutions for use in innovation management. But not all are suitable for integrating every employee into goal-oriented collaboration projects and initiatives. To increase the quantity, quality, and speed of implementation of the innovative employee ideas, the following criteria should be considered when making the selection.
- Opportunities to collaborate in idea generation and evaluation
- Transparent tracking of ideas along the process and during implementation
- User and competence profiles for efficient targeting of relevant persons
- Semantic analysis for evaluating large amounts of content
- Innovation Funding with virtual budgets and funding goals
- Illustration of organizational structures and connection to employee databases
- Campaigns with multiple phases for goal-oriented idea generation
- Customizable evaluation processes and criteria for different topics
With the many possible variations and methods for innovation with employees, one finally faces the big question: where and how do you best start? The answer depends very much on the framework conditions, goals, and previous experiences of each company. A brief inventory of individual factors can help identify the optimal strategy: Where is room for improvement: number of ideas, quality of ideas, or their implementation? From which areas of the company have innovative ideas and impulses come up so far? Are the people or teams who propose ideas involved in the implementation? Which units are hardly involved yet?