Have you ever seen one of those chain-reaction contraptions like the one in Back to the Future that makes breakfast and feeds the dog? In the States, it’s known as a Rube Goldberg Machine and as a Heath Robinson Machine in the UK. The idea behind it is to illustrate a very elaborate set of actions to perform a simple task. They’re very fun to watch and, by design, very inefficient. The gimmick is in the obstacles that need to be overcome, without any leeway, to achieve the desired goal. This is why they’re a novelty at best.

I came across this article published by the London School of Economics on the importance of employee-led innovation. It gives some great examples of organisations that have launched programmes aimed at having their employees contribute to continuous improvement or product innovation. A baby food business that produced a new range of after-exercise snacks after employees noted the sugary/salty snacks parents provided after a swimming session; the smoothie company where one employee revamped a poorly selling flavoured water to increase that product’s revenue almost four-fold; 3M, the massive multinational, implementing a policy of 15% innovation time.

Innovation by employees is the next big thing! Sounds great, right? And, it is. But it’s difficult to implement and even more challenging to make the process efficient, equitable, and evidentiary of success. There’s a reason this article was written in 2013 and we’ve not seen a boon of employee innovation since it was published. A lot of moving parts that have to function in a precise way without any room for failure to achieve one result. Innovation by the employee, to date, has its very own Rube Goldberg moment.

So, how do we change that?

First, we must accept and appreciate that our employees have a lot more to offer than how they’re currently being utilised.

Often when we talk about human capital, we’re referencing “the skills, knowledge and experience of a person or group of people, seen as something valuable that an organization or country can make use of.” This is certainly how The Oxford Learning Dictionary defines human capital. It’s the last part of this definition (and the most under-utilised in my opinion) that I want to focus on. Most of the time, the skills, knowledge, and experience of the individual are viewed as the traits which allow them to perform their job duties. Exceptional performance might mean additional compensation like a promotion or raise. Or, conversely, under-performance might result in disciplinary action or loss of job. And, generally, that’s where the extent of the individual’s experience, skills, and knowledge are utilised.

What if organisations thought beyond that and truly maximised the human capital at its disposal? If the individual’s experience, skills, and knowledge make them suitable for their specific role, couldn’t their experience, skills, and knowledge be utilised in other areas of the business like providing valuable feedback, continuous improvement, or even product innovation? The benefits of this are innumerable:

Your organisation’s benefits are many:

  • Greater levels of enthusiasm
  • More discretionary effort
  • Vested interest in the success of the organisation
  • Greater levels of teamwork and collaboration
  • Greater productivity and profitability
  • New and improved products and processes

Okay, you get it; you’ve all in on the notion – what’s next? How do you unleash the creativity?

1.      Listen.

Give the employee their voice. You can do this in a few ways. First take their “pulse” with graphical interface questioning. Then survey the workforce to dig deeper to understand the trends.

2.      Involve.

Give employees an opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns in a way that does so at any time, from anywhere.

3.      Challenge.

Invoke your workforce to offer suggestions for improvement of processes, policies, and procedures.

4.      Collaborate.

No one is better equipped to contribute to an organisation’s innovation efforts than its employees. Let your workforce be your ideation force.

Makes sense, right?

Ahh, but what about the Rube Goldberg complexity?

How do we get rid of the obstacles of ineffective implementation that, traditionally, has gotten in the way of all that creativity?

Here are my five tips:

  • Make it manageable – Find a solution that can mirror your organisational structure
  • Make it decentralised – Put the activities into the hands of your local leaders and away from HR and Innovation
  • Make it structured – Ensure the format for contribution is set up in such a way as to make it fair and hassle-free.
  • Make it measurable – In order to expedite change efforts, the feedback and ideas must be easy to track, easy to spot trends, easy to grade, and easy to report on.
  • Make it fun – Offer information that’s designed to provoke thought and stimulate creativity or, as we call it, brain fuel.

And, if you really want to make employee-led innovation work for you, use a solution like smartcrowds to allow you to do all of the above in one platform.

If you’d like to learn more about smartcrowds, let’s chat.