Guest View: Improve your innovation program

by Joseph K. Clark

An interesting phenomenon in the innovation space is that even innovation programs need re-inventing from time to time. A typical pattern for IdeaScale clients is that they discover after a year or two of success (or struggle) that it’s time for them to re-imagine their program in new ways. This means changing how they conduct outreach, share information, the process for selecting ideas, incentives, and more. This happens because transformation is necessary for almost everything. What worked last year won’t work because trends have moved on, the culture is experiencing some sort of new micro-climate, the technology has evolved, or multiple other factors.

No matter how successful your innovation program is — whether you’re improving the workplace for your employees or you’re building the next new disruptive technology — everyone wants to find a way to supercharge and re-invigorate their program. Here are three ways that we’ve seen work for other innovation leaders.

innovation program

Train your workforce in innovation methodologies. One of the most surprising findings from IdeaScale’s annual customer discovery was that only 19% of innovation programs had trained their employees in innovation. We believe this presents the most significant opportunities to companies that care about transforming their culture. Innovation training is a necessary form of professional development that your employees will appreciate because it’s a portable skill. Still, it will also have some key benefits for any organization willing to invest in it, as well. For example, giving everyone a shared language will help streamline processes, but it will also tangibly highlight a shared company value. Bayer had an excellent innovation training program that helped them nurture innovation ambassadors so well. Their innovation training program now has a waiting list and numerous new R&D opportunities to explore.

Require each employee to implement one idea on their own (large or small). One of our most successful innovation programs included a new requirement on their employees’ performance reviews. Every employee had to suggest and implement one idea. The innovation team at this healthcare organization did a great job in first training their employees on what would constitute a good idea and then teaching them how to estimate the value of an idea and how to take action on it. Most of these ideas were just simple improvements (like a clothing stock for patients who came in and had to have their clothing cut off or a different style surgical mask that was easier to put on). Still, it shared the responsibility of making the entire organization better so that everyone could talk about their contribution with pride. And they did it! 12,000 employees implemented 12,000 new ideas! Since then, that health care organization has been looking for more significant ideas with longer horizons. Still, now they have a whole network of engaged and excited employees who feel like they are a part of making their workplace better.

Highlight each success by crediting the people who made it possible. One of the most exciting things about technology like IdeaScale is reaching out to the community of people who make a new idea come to life. Most of the time, when a new idea, concept, project, or process succeeds — it is rare thanks to a single individual, but instead to an entire community of people — those who suggested it supported it, helped develop it, approved it, advocated for it, explored it, improved it and beyond. When you find success, don’t just honor the submitter but the community around it so that others feel included in the process of innovation. You don’t necessarily need to call out every participant in the process, but it’s helpful to think beyond just the usual one or two people as the face of an idea.

No matter which of these strategies you pick, you should be looking for new ways to engage more voices and new tactics for rapidly testing out promising ideas.

To learn other hacks for improving innovation, check out IdeaScale’s annual crowdsourced innovation report, which includes findings from IdeaScale’s community of innovation managers about their programs, as well as recommendations for optimizing your own innovation program.

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