There is an overarching theme with innovation in companies, and we get it. Promoting new ideas inside a large, established organization can be quite a difficult task. Resources may be scarce, management may not be up for new initiatives, or top executives may only want to talk innovation at one or two points of the process but not support it to the end.
Amidst all this anxiety, our team here at Be-novative have some key success factors to share with leaders looking to push innovation, or rather, to start an innovation challenge in your organization—over the last six years we have worked with more than 60 multinational enterprises on this.
We identified three common mistakes that results in failed challenges.
This comes from our free ebook that includes the top 15 challenge topics Fortune 2000 companies have used to achieve their successes.
Common mistakes why innovation challenges do not work
#1: A basic approach that does not give people the space for creativity
Traditional methods that focus on paper-based proposals or even google forms for submitting new ideas to decision-makers, is too basic for strong engagement to happen. The biggest part of the problem is when a challenge broadly asks about a topic that is too general, like, "what is your idea for blockchain?" This does not arouse creative thinking.
What we’ve usually seen innovation managers or organization leaders use, are the traditional approaches mentioned above. This is neither inspiring or motivating—people are left alone with empty forms and you already lose potential ideas from the get-go. The number one recommendation we have for this is to start off every innovation challenge as a collaborative one.
Organize a workshop, an ideation session that uses design thinking, or even a special lunch-in to kick-start your project where members get the first impression that collectivity will be at play. However you set this up, working together will multiply the amount of ideas as well as the quality. Allow a space for unbiased suggestions and for people to reflect on each other’s suggestions. In this way, creativity will spark and do wonders. And, a bottom-up line of action will surface surprising ideas from not just “company geniuses,” but from anyone.
#2: When the challenge topic does not relate to day-to-day work
When no one finds your inquiry important enough, they won’t feel the need to brainstorm for a solution. When people don’t feel the need for a solution, they won’t participate, period. Sincerely get to know your innovation challenge. What is the background information? What are the goals? What specific topic is it tied to? And above all, will it resonate with your audience?
Within this, ask yourself if you or other leaders are the only ones creating these initiatives. Why? Because if so, we strongly propose that you let everyone start challenges. This means communicating an open floor for employees at any level of the organization to create and pose a question whenever they come across a problem or discover a new opportunity in their day-to-day work.
Also, a challenge of any size can be a meaningful one. Don't think that an innovation challenge is one organized with a huge budget for support and facilitation. It can be future-oriented, but as well be about present issues utilized as opportunities to source for fresh perspectives on a monthly or even weekly basis. Our team at Be-novative runs challenge sessions every Friday, where topics vary from new product features to process improvements or even extracurricular team activities. Whatever it may be, insights from these day-to-day efforts can help design larger, more complex initiatives for the future and promote innovation as an everyday effort inside your organization.
#3: No follow-up plan to truly empower participants
Leaders need to figure out a method for innovation, which includes a strong follow-up strategy. When there are no workshops, design thinking canvases, systematic ways for people to form teams to move ideas further, and especially no follow-up… Like most unorganized ventures, things will fall apart.
We see management offer incentives, but it’s rarely mixed in to their plan from the very beginning. However, when they are well thought out, it reaps amazing benefits. To discover and involve those hidden innovators within a company, we identified one of the best possible ways to follow-up to challenges. Allow participants to work on their own ideas with implementation plans openly on the plate, and connect them to others with similar drives. This means the allocation of time and resources are a must. It’s not just, “hey give me your ideas,” but rather “hey we have a solid game plan to support your high-potential ideas.” Invest in them—it is worth it.
If implementation is not ensured from the beginning, the whole challenge has a huge risk to end in failure. On the contrary, encourage your innovators to facilitate the elaboration, experimentation and validation of the most promising ideas in sprints. Communicate the desired output from day one, and throughout your follow-up. Either celebrate the successes or share learning points. This is a key factor for people to contribute again, for both challenge creators and idea owners. If ideas are implemented, especially announce those items; it will further boost the participation rate as well as the quality of future ideas. Overall, have a follow-up plan no matter the challenge outcome.
When leaders successfully engage their colleagues to innovate for a common incentive, it pushes business developments forward, stimulates creativity, and forms a culture of forward-thinking, imaginative, and even an inspirational organization that drives everyday innovation.
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