Written by Nate Hutchins and Amy Muller
How many of you have launched an electronic suggestion box with great expectations of innovative ideas to transform the business? And how many of those expectations were realized? Actually, a well-designed electronic suggestion box is only part of the solution. To solicit and receive good ideas and to make those ideas into reality requires a system that goes beyond the suggestion box.
We all know why it is important to get the “front line” enthusiastically engaged in submitting ideas. While the upper levels of the hierarchy have the most experience, the front line is closest to your customers and the everyday problems that require innovative solutions. And giving the front line a chance to voice their ideas strengthens their sense of ownership in the company.
Using an online platform to engage your front line in innovation goes a long way to establish transparency, openness, and collaboration (hallmarks of an innovative culture). A well-thought-out online innovation system leverages another benefit of IT: speed. Bringing people together online through wikis, blogs, and other sharing mechanisms encourages rapid creation and implementation of innovative solutions; much faster than sequential, isolated emails and meetings.
But to successfully leverage all that IT has to offer to front line innovation, IT leaders must keep a few things in mind.
1. Focus the innovation on items of importance. Present the innovation challenge as a broad business goal, but “localize” the issue and present in the context of day-to-day activities. Inspire the person, not just the employee, with a goal to aspire: “Lifelong solutions for people with chronic disease” (Medtronic) inspires more transformational ideas than “Grow revenues by 50%”.
2. Provide clear and transparent decision criteria and feedback. Nothing frustrates potential innovators more than seeing their ideas fall into an electronic black hole or becoming victim to a mysterious political decision process. Provide constructive feedback on ideas to promote learning – and to get better ideas in the future.
3. Keep it fresh and adaptive. Enlist new online tools as they become available to encourage and support common interests and richer discussions. Use the platform not only as a “suggestion box” but also a means to recruit innovation teams, to gauge the crowd support of ideas, and to leverage in-house innovation experts. Recruit key leaders and influencers to participate. Keep the platform friendly by welcoming all ideas and discussions.
4. Develop the back end as well as the front end. All of the new ideas need someplace to go for review and prioritization. Make sure you have the required infrastructure (people, budget, and online support) to effectively manage the ideas you will receive. In the best case, the online system neatly interfaces to an existing innovation process. If not, now is the time to build your innovation process and pipeline.
5. Leverage your innovation platform as a training mechanism. Innovation rarely arises as the “Eureka” moment. Instead, generating new perspectives is a key enabler of successful innovation. Use the opportunity afforded by your online innovation system to train the potential innovators in ways to identify and gather new perspectives. Encourage blogging about relevant trends, consumer behavior, and changing industry and market dynamics. This way, your potential innovators will be “trained” using “live ammo” which is usually more successful than classroom training.
Amy Muller is a Director and Nate Hutchins is a Principal with Strategos, a global strategy and innovation consulting firm and the Strategic Services division of Innovaro. Visit their website: www.strategos.com