Running an idea challenge?
Want high engagement and quality ideas?
Having a hard time framing the conversation?
Whether you are launching a time-bound challenge, or trying an idea software solution, framing the conversation appropriately is one of the most important steps in launching an idea program. It is also one of the easiest to mess up.
Why frame a challenge or initiative at all?
To innovate means you have to do something. In the corporate setting, doing something usually requires securing resources. And to secure resources, you generally need to be aligned with one of the organization’s strategic priorities.
So if you are not framing the challenge in the direction of one of those strategic priorities, you are unlikely to see value in the exercise, as any ideas that come out of it will have a hard time getting the resources needed to see the idea through to fruition.
Also, framing the conversation helps employees by establishing “guard rails” that help give them a clear idea of what the company’s goals are and the types of ideas they are looking to implement.
One of the best things about working at SoapBox is that we have a hand in the idea programs of some of the biggest and best companies in North America. And from this work we have developed one general rule of thumb — the wider you frame the conversation: you gain engagement but you lose focus. The narrower you frame the conversation: less engagement, but more focus.
Let’s unpack this:
When you open things up to the “What’s on your mind…” level, you can get anything — literally any type of idea. The good news is people don’t feel limited to what YOU want them to say, so the barrier to entry is low and you usually get more people participating. The downside is, you don’t get a lot of high quality ideas — or at least not what you were looking for. However, sometimes, that’s okay — as in when you are trying to build trust with the community and just get them to the table.
At the other end of the extreme, you have a highly focused conversation or question where the framing is so narrow that there is little room for people to surprise you with their ideas — and thus, often little value in the exercise. You also lose most of the engagement value with this approach, in which case you might as well send out a survey.
If you want people to think outside the box, you need to open up at least one of the sides.
The best programs find some middle ground — the Goldilocks “just right” zone where there is enough latitude so that people don’t feel overly confined by the topic, but with enough focus so that most of the ideas are headed in the direction you wanted.
This comes down to the basic mechanics of conversation. The best conversations happen around things both parties want to talk about. Employees are people, and people want to talk about what ideas that are interesting and important to them. Connections are made when conversations happen around those shared interests and ideas. Connections are strengthened when progress is made around those ideas.
There is value in framing for engagement, and there is value in framing for innovation — the right answer depends what stage you are in with the maturity of your program.
If your employees are already actively engaged and participation is great across the board, then you can afford to frame narrower. If, however, your idea program is new or has not yet been built and sustained momentum, then perhaps starting with a wider conversation that spurs more engagement is right for you.