Sooner or later, any organisation which wishes to become more innovative will implement some kind of suggestion scheme or idea management system that allows employees to submit ideas and provides some method for evaluating ideas. This is a good thing. After all, PWC has found that almost half (45%) of lucrative ideas—whether breakthrough products or services, new uses for old ones, or ways to cut costs—come from employees. The other half come from customers, suppliers, and competitors. Some companies buy software tools to facilitate their idea management programme. Others build their own. Most companies, however, take the wrong approach.
A lot of companies I have seen start off by using an e-mail based idea submission approach. In this scenario, someone is designated the innovation manager. When people have ideas, they e-mail them to the innovation manager. Once a month or so, she reviews those ideas – usually with a few colleagues – and chooses those ideas she believes worth implementing.
A few companies have developed web based systems that operate similarly. There are also some companies that develop off-the-shelf idea management solutions that operate along these lines.
Unfortunately, such suggestion based idea management schemes usually fail within 12-18 months of launching. There are several reasons for this:
1) A suggestion scheme invites all kinds of ideas. If the scheme is well promoted, the innovation manager will be deluged with ideas, some good, some not so good, some relevant to the company’s needs, some completely irrelevant. Many people will nearly identical ideas, adding to the innovation master’s workload without providing added innovation value. Eventually, the innovation manager becomes overwhelmed with ideas and can no longer process them. Meanwhile, employees begin to notice that nothing happens to their ideas and so become demotivated and stop participating. Soon, the system stagnates.
2) Most suggestion schemes are opaque. People cannot see how their ideas are progressing or, indeed, whether or not their ideas are progressing. Moreover, people cannot see each others’ ideas and be inspired by them. As a result, people forget about the system.
3) Most suggestion schemes are non-collaborative. People simply submit ideas. There are no tools for people to see each others’ ideas or build on each others’ ideas. That is a shame. The real power of organisational innovation is being able to exploit the cumulative creativity of the entire workforce. This requires creative collaboration.
The best way to approach idea management is via what we (at jpb.com) call ideas campaigns. An ideas campaign starts with a challenge, such as “How might we improve the functionality of product X?” or “How might we improve the efficiency of our logistics system?”. Then, for a limited period – usually two to six weeks – all employees are invited to submit their solutions to the challenge in an open, collaborative, on-line environment. At the end of the campaign, the best ideas are evaluated and pre-implemented, again in an open, collaborative environment.
The benefits to such an approach are manifold:
1) Innovation is focused on specific business needs.
2) A collaborative environment not only substantially reduces idea repetition, but also allows colleagues to build on each others’ ideas – even when those colleagues do not know each other.
3) The limited duration of the ideas campaign motivates people to share their ideas quickly and to think about specific business problems. People cannot put off sharing an idea – or it may be too late.
4) The open collaborative environment allows employees to monitor their ideas’ progress.
5) Once the campaign is completed and the best ideas implemented, the campaign can be archived for future reference. As a result, the innovation manager is not left with old ideas to manage.
Thus, the ideas campaign approach to idea management is effective, responds to specific business needs and is sustainable over the long term.
Clearly, whether you are in an SME, a massive organisation or a government body, ideas campaigns are the way to get focused innovation out of your workforce.