“If you build it, they will come” is an often misquote from Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, (It’s ‘he’ will come). This view, however, is often held by some Senior Management Teams when it comes to innovation software. They think, if we give our colleagues a place to submit their ideas, they will surely tell us which product we should build to become the next Apple Inc!
What this view fails to consider is that innovation is a process. It is a process that must be learned and continually refined, and that is built on the culture that has openness and trust at its heart. It also fails to recognise that innovation requires engagement and that engagement must be earned.
So, what is the business benefit in earning engagement?
- “engaged employees freely and willingly give discretionary effort, not as an ‘add on’, but as an integral part of their daily activity at work.” 1
- There is a significant correlation between engagement and innovative work behaviour. 2
- Highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability 3
- Thirty-two percent of employees who leave a job within 90 days do so because of company culture. 4
- “Employees don’t check their personalities at the door when they come to work. Knowing that they are respected as individuals at work can have a significant impact on how employees view their overall lives.” 5
So, the business benefit of engaged employees is clear. An increase in the overall innovative ability of the organisation where employees are prepared to go beyond their contractual obligations for the greater good. What is also clear, is that driving employee engagement is not the natural role of an innovation leader and underlines the importance of Senior Leadership & Human Resources in helping to frame the culture that supports innovation.
At smartcrowds, when we talk to organisations interested in purchasing our solution, one of the first questions we ask is, “how is innovation currently managed?”. We are attempting to gain an understanding of the underlying culture and level of employee engagement. Successful innovation programme outcomes, using our software, increase when an innovative culture already exists, employees are already submitting ideas and the organisation wants to implement software to improve the pace, scope, reach and governance of innovation. Below are some of the traits we see in organisations that have high levels of engagement and that see benefits in their innovation programmes:
- Trust – Employees feel empowered to give voice to their ideas and views. Employees believe that their colleagues will be there for them.
- Openness – Decisions and the rationale behind them are communicated regularly.
- Accountability – Blame does not exist, responsibility to each other does. Individuals, however, take responsibility for their own actions and their effect on others and the organisation generally.
- Individuality – The organisation recognises the individual’s strengths & weaknesses and supports them to put the strengths to best use in internal teams and for the benefit of their customers. The individual is supported to build on their strengths and improve their weaknesses.
- Leadership – Leaders are ‘there’ for their employees. Feedback (both ways) is given regularly and is viewed as an opportunity to improve. Criticism is always constructive. In fact, a previous blog talked about the importance of moving to a more regular approach to gathering feedback from employees and moving beyond the annual survey as the only mechanism for employee feedback.
- Measurement – What gets measured gets improved! The organisation, departments, units and individual employees welcome the setting of KPI’s as an integral part of ensuring the best performance. Missed targets are used as an opportunity to learn.
- Agility – Organisational silos do not get in the way of collaboration; teams are formed across organisational units utilising the best talents to get the job done and for the benefit of the customer.
- Learning – Regular reviews of projects are undertaken. The good and the bad are used to improve future performance. Failure is regarded as a chance to learn and is embraced as a natural product of innovation.
We know that organisations that demonstrate these traits are well on the way to being successful innovators. If they have well defined innovation management processes or are implementing our IMPact Innovation Management Process, then adding software is the next logical step. The question is, “how does smartcrowds support employee engagement and the culture of innovation?”
How smartcrowds supports employee engagement & the culture of innovation
Organising Crowds & People effectively
The organisation of Crowds in smartcrowds means that users are kept up to date with the information that is important to them while also allowing them to join Crowds where they feel they may be able to add value. Employees receive information only from the Crowds where they have membership and not for others; this careful control of information guards against ‘information overload’ and helps to maintain engagement.
Communicating Values and Priorities
To be most effective, assessment measures should align with the values, strategic objectives, or KPIs of the organisation or the Business Unit that the Crowd has been created for.
When they are suitably aligned, well designed assessment measures play an important role in communicating back to Crowd members how their ideas will contribute to the goals of the organisation or business unit and reinforce the benefit of getting involved.
Clear, Innovation Challenge Definition
When an Innovation Challenge is created, it will have a very clear definition of what the target outcome is – the challenge “mission”. The Challenge will have a clear end date and will often be accompanied by a set of challenge constraints. This clear definition allows employees to understand what types of ideas the organisation is interested in receiving.
Regular Challenge Communication
smartcrowds provides a ‘Notify’ feature that can be used for Challenges and Innovation Groups at any point. Using this feature, Crowd and Group Owners can regularly communicate with all Crowd members, providing some new information and keep them engaged.
Employee Feedback using Idea Surveys
Where an idea has been shortlisted for further exploration, a great way to increase engagement is through idea surveys. Idea Surveys enable the organisation to quickly consult with the entire workforce, or members of the crowd, to find out what they think of the idea. This makes people feel much more involved in the decision-making process, building trust and increasing ‘buy-in’ to the innovation programme.
When running multiple Innovation Challenges in an organisation, a single innovation team will become overburdened with work, innovation will suffer, and the wider workforce will feel excluded. An alternative is to build innovation “Teams” to take shortlisted ideas forward through the exploration stage, and onto the implementation stage where appropriate.
Identifying Quick Wins
At the point of the idea selection stage, some ideas will be identified as “quick wins” which should be considered for rapid selection and implementation.
Delivering quick wins and communicating their story back to employees, via notifications and case studies, demonstrates that positive outcomes are being achieved from the innovation programme, and that the organisation is committed to following through on its employee promise.
Creating & Announcing Case Studies
smartcrowds provides the ability to compose articles of any nature, including case studies, and to promote these on the microsite of each Crowd.
Case studies are a powerful mechanism for telling the story of the idea – from inception, through exploration and on to implementation and outcome. They provide an opportunity to showcase innovations that could provide benefit to other parts of the organisation, and they also give the organisation an opportunity to put the contributor in the spotlight for their efforts.
At smartcrowds we’re not generally a big fan of incentivisation schemes. Unless very carefully managed, they can lead to bad behaviours creeping into the innovation programme, anxiety amongst some individuals, leader boards elitism and worse, accusations of favouritism – how can one really measure the “best idea”?
In truth, most individuals do care about the organisation, and want to see it succeed and will willingly engage, without being incentivised, if they believe the organisation is serious about listening and learning.
Ask the employees!
smartcrowds offers a standalone survey feature where an organisation can consult with employees to find out what they would like to see the organisation focusing on. The results are likely to surprise everyone, and lead to the next innovation challenge.
Using Reports to track interaction & engagement
smartcrowds has many ‘out-of-the-box’ reports that will help organisations understand whether engagement levels are on the increase or are waning.
The smartcrowds lessons learned feature allows those involved in a project to give their feedback to its successes and failures. Employees can be confident that their feedback will lead to change for the better. A repository of knowledge means that, no longer can an employee be told “we tried that in the past and it didn’t work, so…” , now they can see why it didn’t work previously and, if needs be, refine their own idea to address any previous issues.
Organisations with engaged employees are in the best position to be innovative. With robust innovation processes in place, they can start to uncover ideas for growth, sustainability, improved working and new product lines from their employees. Take these processes and map them in smartcrowds and they turbo charge them; increasing the number of ideas ‘in play’, increasing the pace of innovation and ultimately leading to more positive change, more of the time. This in turn, will increase the levels of employee engagement, completing a virtuous circle of high employee engagement, high levels of innovation, high customer satisfaction and loyalty.