Innovation is a top priority for many companies (in fact, for nearly two thirds of companies, according to a recent Bain study). Given its importance, leaders naturally desire all employees to be part of the company’s innovation agenda in some shape or form. Through working with our clients to launch their engaged idea programs with our idea software, we have observed that it is not happenstance when an active, participatory employee community emerges. In fact, there are four key elements that need to be in place for employees to direct their time and energy to sharing new ideas or executing innovative initiatives.
1: Let employees know it is important
First things first, let employees know how critical your idea program is. In particular, indicate where it stands relative to other initiatives and agendas so that employees know to prioritize their efforts.
In terms of method of communications, the classic email from the executive sponsor can go a long way. However, nearly 80% of email traffic has been defined as ineffective as the message was better communicated through a live discussion. I have seen our clients be very successful in getting their message out via town halls, presenting at team meetings, or organizing an interactive ideation session to kick things off.
2: Make it worth their while
I love the phrase: WIIFM (i.e., what’s in it for me). It may sound harsh but it is true – people are motivated to do something when they benefit. The benefit does not have to be monetary. In fact, I’d shy away them as financial rewards can lead to negative outcomes. Instead, make the act of participating intrinsically beneficial.
In the engaged idea programs our clients run, they have encouraged employees to submit good ideas through the following types of rewards:
- ‘Innovator of the week’ profile in a company-wide newsletter or intranet site
- Dinner with the boss to pitch their idea
- Quarterly awards ceremony where the idea and the employee are recognized
- Opportunity to work on the project to implement the idea
- Gathering of the top innovators for a skill-building workshop
3: Enlist champions at all levels of the organization
Role models are a powerful influence of one’s behaviour. When we see others we respect acting in a certain way, we are likely to emulate that behaviour. If you are looking for employees to be engaged in your idea program, then it is essential to ensure that those who are respected in the organization are on-board.
One important thing to note is that the role models need not be senior leaders. Conscripting a network of employees from all levels to champion of your idea program is very effective. If these employees are in good standing with their peers, they can play a valuable role in communicating important messages, encouraging others to participate and modeling the behaviours you desire (e.g., sharing new ideas). The champions can also be a good source of feedback to you on how your innovation program is going. One tip is to set up a standing monthly meeting where you discuss new engagement tactics and share feedback and information on the program.
4. Make it easy to participate
When all is said and done, if employees find it cumbersome to participate in the idea program, they will abort their mission and go back to business as usual. Some questions consider in order to enable employee participation include:
- Is participation part of the employee workflow? (e.g., links to websites you want them to access are front and center on a daily basis)
- Do employees have the skills to participate?
- Do employees have time to engage?
Engaging employees in top priorities is essential as employees are the fuel to achieve organizational goals. An idea program is no exception. You’ll not only get better insight by tapping their knowledge but you’ll also ensure strong execution of initiatives through alignment and commitment to a common goal. And exceptional execution on a new idea – now that is innovative.