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Best Strategies for Managing Innovation in a Big Company

Top executives across all major industries today are feeling the same thing: innovation is crucial. But what’s the best way to foster and manage it?

Here at SoapBox, we typically work with large and enterprise businesses. In developing close partnerships and relationships with our clients, it puts us in a unique situation whereby we can see how these companies currently go about managing innovation.

Following are the most common practices we see in top companies’ efforts to manage innovation today:

  1. Don’t. Many organizations don’t have a formal process. Obviously this is not a recommended practice, but most organizations follow it nonetheless. When they do, we see that innovation is managed mainly by politics. Unfortunately, this becomes pretty destructive to a company’s culture.
  2. Ad Hoc in Person. We also see this one a lot. Once a year, teams get together in big rooms and go through brainstorming sessions on new and innovative ways to solve the organization’s problems. The whiteboard contents and sticky notes are gathered and manually entered into a database — usually Excel or something similar. This process typically leads to very little. Why? People leave the room and manual work that is left behind is so tremendous that it gets slowly forgotten.
  3. Suggestion Box (Electronic or Not). Many other organizations use a suggestion box (or an ideas@companyx.com email address) to solicit and gather ideas from employees. After the ideas are gathered, most businesses manage them in a similar process as number two above. As such, the same problems occur.

In general, all of the above lack actual management. That’s the exciting part about innovation management… while each innovation is unique, the process of managing that innovation is fairly similar in each organization.

A few things are important in that process:

  • Accountability
  • Feedback Loops w/ Participants
  • Duplicate Ideas Detecting, Filtering, Managing
  • Analytics and Tracking of ROI
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All the common practices cited above intrinsically lack these features, so you’ll have to manually put hours towards that in order to achieve success. We’ve seen clients have teams of people dedicated to this task. So if you’re a big organization and your employees come up with ten ideas each, you’ll be bombarded with thousands upon thousands of ideas that someone has to read. It’s horribly inefficient.

Without having the above, you can actually do more harm to your innovation culture at your organization. Employees will start feeling like their ideas don’t matter or that the organization doesn’t care about them. We’ve seen letters of “disengagement” being sent to CEOs after launching campaigns such as the above and not following through.

The Answer: Using an Innovation Management System

There are a variety of systems to choose from. Some focus on product innovations, some focus on managing R&D teams, and some are about tracking research, patents, and the creation of patents.

Ours focuses on the employee. We want to connect the front lines of the business to the bottom line. How can you engage with your entire company and drive results, action, and ROI from the hidden gems that exist at scale?

Innovation management systems like these prescribe a process that makes the collection and evaluation side simple, while making the management side as automated and frictionless as possible. For us, we call it engaged innovation — mixing employee engagement with innovation management.

The only way to manage innovation at a big company is with a system. Either that’s a technology system or not… but trust me, you will not want to do aggregation by hand!

This post is an updated version of an answer I wrote on Quora. Click here to view the original.

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