Organizations look at their first opportunity to engage the workforce around new ideas with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. You’ll hear divergent opinions “What if no one comes, we’ll look like fools!” to “Just think how powerful this will be, we have immediate access to huge numbers of people”. Selecting the right starting point is critical to the pace and potential success of your program; the following are common challenges for innovation teams:
- How should we start?
- What should we focus on?
- With whom should we engage?
The first thing to consider is that we’re using a new approach to do new things; this means that our audience must engage with both the process and the opportunity in which we’re interested. Where to start? It’s easy to be under or over ambitious; often organizations think about a pilot to test the water, in other cases the focus is huge, with significant targets for product breakthroughs. Ideally, we need to be somewhere in-between. A pilot can set the wrong context; a key driver for participation is belief in the process, if the organization is only ‘testing the water’, then a significant portion of your audience may decide to wait until the approach is fully endorsed. Who wants to put their great idea into the test phase? By running a pilot, we may inadvertently handicap the success of our initial efforts. Likewise, our ambitious goals may not be the best focus for us either, since not only are we asking people to innovate against the most significant challenges we face, we’re also asking them to do so using a completely new approach. It’s often best to tackle a real business need first, to observe the reaction in a real situation, and then tune the approach to match the culture and the way people work. Based on the results, we can then work up to the bigger challenges with more confidence in the outcome. So consider picking a middle ground, a real opportunity or challenge, with a committed sponsor who wants to make an impact. Something that feels achievable in one step, an opportunity where we’ll know if we’ve been successful. The audience will ‘buy-in’ to the challenge as something that’s interesting and typically people like to help if they feel their assistance is appreciated.
A great first challenge can remove any caution about a new online process. Who should be in the audience? You may face a dilemma in picking who to invite to participate, if we focus on those we know are most likely to submit ideas and are closest to the opportunity, then we may find we get a lack of innovation – the same ideas are shared. If we go too wide, then a bulk of the audience may find the topic irrelevant; consider the approach to be a waste of their time, and may be less likely to participate in future campaigns. As we start from more modest beginnings, we will need to invite more than just the core, but let’s try and keep it relevant to those that are most likely to be interested. Consider those further down a delivery path in addition to those that generate ideas. For example, if R&D is looking for new product ideas, consider inviting those charged with implementing new concepts, finance will want to ensure any new concept has material value, and sales will want new concepts to match market demands. All of these groups have a vested interest in good new products, so let’s include them. In addition, technology can really help; you know you have to invite the core team as resident experts and the other selected groups with a vested interest, but who else? We may not know who has the answers, but the crowd might!
We can encourage the audience that participates to invite others they know that have an interest in the subject; this peer referral process helps boost overall participation and keeps your focus on the right audience. Sponsors make the difference If you have a choice between two sponsors with different opportunities, whom should you pick to go first? It can be a tough choice, as an innovation team, not every challenge with which you’re presented will be suitable for a campaign, so you’ll need to understand what’s suitable and what’s not – and that includes a sponsor. One of the most important factors in promoting participation is the quality of the sponsorship. Consider someone with budget, influence, and a good reputation for innovation; they are likely to see a better response from their campaign, than someone who is junior, less known across the company, and will need to request budget.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support that group to reach out for new ideas, but when we run our very first campaign, it makes sense to consider a focus that’s most likely to succeed and have our audience get used to the approach on activities that have a good chance of success.
We’ll get more out of that same audience in less ideal scenarios later if they’ve already had a positive experience with the new process.
- Focus on challenges that are real within the company, matters that will encourage interest within your given audience, something that people feel they can help with.
- Try to avoid opportunities that are so small, resolving them wouldn’t be material, or so large that it’s impossible to see how we could resolve them on the first attempt.
- Consider those with a vested interest in the solution as well as experts; use a peer referral approach to bring in others you’re not aware of.
- In the early stages, look to high-quality sponsors, those that are likely to act if given good ideas, even better if they’ll participate in the challenge and help to steer the discussion towards concepts in which they’re really interested.
Image Credit: Coaching4Educators
Colin Nelson is Director of Consulting at HYPE, a leading provider of Innovation Management Software. Using the power of the workforce, 3rd parties and customers, Colin helps clients engage disparate groups to support existing or newly established programmes on Innovation, Cost reduction, Business Transformation and Business Improvement.