Innovation Challenges: The What, Why, and How
Innovation challenges typically span the course of three to four weeks and are similar to running a targeted campaign to solve a specific business problem.
Your typical innovation challenge will look something similar to the process below, using a fictitious company Trees Co. as an example:
* Challenge Question: Sustainability and green practices are one of the core values here at Trees Co. We want to hear your ideas about how we can change our existing business processes to use more sustainable materials and reduce our impact on the environment.
* Tier 1: The company will ask for any and all ideas that are related to the challenge question. Employees will vote and comment on one another’s ideas over a set period (typically a week). The top fifty ideas with the most votes move on to the next round.
* Tier 2: The company will list the top fifty ideas and ask employees to vote again. Only the top ten ideas will move on to the final stage.
* Tier 3: The top ten ideas are then evaluated by the leaders in the company. Some companies will provide the employees responsible for these best ideas additional training and consulting so that their ideas can be developed into professional business pitches. These pitches are then delivered to leaders.
The winner of the innovation challenge then receives some form of a prize, whether that be a monetary prize, recognition, or becoming the lead of the project idea.
Innovation challenges are exciting not only because they can result in new and practical ideas, but also, they have the potential to be disruptive.
The Need for Continuous Innovation
Innovation Challenges tend to work best for incremental innovation. That is, they are ideal for accumulating smaller ideas that are easier to implement, but have a huge accumulated impact.
Clients like ours at SoapBox run engaged idea management programs. These programs act like “idea engines”: they take in raw employee ideas and convert them into business value over an extended period of time. Continuous Innovation constantly delivers positive results, including improved employee engagement, cost savings, new revenue growth, and better communication.
Why Choose When You Can Have Both
Here is the good news about innovation challenges and programs: you do not have to choose between the two! We at SoapBox see Continuous Idea Programs paired up with innovation challenges all of the time. When they work together, they can deliver both impactful ideas and boost engagement.
At SoapBox, we encourage our clients to start with a strong foundation that has a Continuous Idea Program at its core. Beginning this way has a few key advantages:
- Leadership Is Encouraged to Build Essential Processes and Governance
Employee ideation and submission is only one-half of the innovation equation. Leadership must also be actively engaged. Kicking off your idea program with continuous innovation locks leadership into their roles as active participants in the process, ensuring that they continue to respond to ideas and drive valuable ideas forward. This also makes it easier for companies to run innovation challenges.
- Creating a Culture of Innovation
Employees need to have the opportunity to build their innovation capacity. A continuous idea program helps employees recognize ways in which they can improve their work. Those ideas are then shared with peers, creating a cascading idea effect.
- Opening up Channels of Communication
Both idea programs and challenges rely heavily on communication. Employees need to share their opinions, and leadership needs to show employees that their voices have been heard.
We have found that it is most beneficial to run an innovation challenge once your continuous program is meeting your target engagement and innovation metrics. These challenges are particularly useful for boosting engagement and receiving fresh ideas for specific problems or topics:
- Boosting Engagement with Innovation Challenges
Being time bound, innovation challenges are intense. This generates a higher level of engagement and an increased flow of new and inspired ideas.
- Solving Specific Business Problems with Innovation Challenges
Scratching your head and wondering how your company can cut costs? Run an innovation challenge! Your employees work the frontlines every day and are familiar with many different problems and inefficiencies, many of which have simple budget-friendly fixes that you can begin to implement immediately.