In a recent Booz & Company study it was reported that only 40% of the 1,000 most innovative companies have a structured idea management program in place (The Global Innovation 1000: Navigating the Digital Future). A surprising fact given the importance of idea generation in the innovation process. This means that 60% of the biggest and best companies in the world are still using archaic methods to collect, organize, and manage ideas. Whether it be offline in face-to-face brainstorming sessions, using email, excel spreadsheets, open suggestion boxes - or ultimately, no idea gathering at all.
Even for those companies that do have an enterprise-wide idea capture tool in place, Booz & Company reports that there is general discontent about the effectiveness of these programs. There are many reasons for the poor return on investment which we explore in a white paper, but the obvious starting point is the campaign methodology.
The structured campaign methodology
Many companies still try to launch an idea program in the old fashion way - like a suggestion box: ideas of any kind are dropped in from across the business without a clear problem statement defined. A good marketing splash can make this work for a short time, but it’s not sustainable.
Campaigns allow you to focus on the areas of the business that you want to innovate in right now. By defining a clear topic you improve idea quality, which in return increases the probability that they actually get implemented. Showing an innovation pipeline with ideas moving through to implementation builds trust and momentum with the audience. Campaigns by definition have a given time frame, and sometimes target a specific audience - both of these help to focus the right amount of corporate energy on the best possible outcomes.
With a campaign approach you can begin to think strategically about your efforts. Define the hunting grounds where you want to find ideas, then map out a series of campaigns to tackle those areas.
We find that the most successful companies have a balanced approach to running big strategic challenges, interspersed with tactical ones. Tactical ones, such as cost saving or process improvements, can generate ideas which can be implemented quickly and allow innovation managers to show results. This is both advantageous to innovation managers and sponsors, but also critical for momentum within the audience. Strategic campaigns have a longer timeframe, and often the ideas must be combined and taken through a concepting phase before real opportunity can be identified. If there is a clear roadmap of activity in both areas, the program is more likely to grow in adoption and becomes sustainable as a process.
The myth of missing big ideas
There is sometimes the feeling that always-open suggestion boxes must be available just in case a big idea comes along. This is largely a myth. Ideas themselves are almost always just a fragment of an innovation - they must be developed and built upon from several sides before they can be made into something valuable. It is more productive to first demonstrate that as a company you are open to ideas from all areas, and you will follow-up on them. Campaigns are a more reliable way to build this trust, and if you achieve this it’s more likely that breakthrough ideas will find their way into the process. The alternative, of having an always open suggestion box can lead to skepticism when ideas linger and do not find their way into a project.
Why not have both? This is the option some companies have taken, for example, a global logistics firm we spoke to is running frequent campaigns but also providing a 24/7 365 space for unsolicited ideas. This can work if you ensure you have momentum developing in the other areas, and if you have a structured approach to dealing with unsolicited ideas. The company has a review process every eight weeks to look at all unsolicited ideas, and either close them as not useful right now, or route them to an owner who can develop them further. This kind of rigor is not simple, and it will consume significant time from an individual who needs to be well connected and know how to push ideas into the right areas of the business.
A South American client in the financial services industry runs campaigns in each of the eight countries it covers. Every year they survey the countries to measure the perception of innovation from the employees, and whether they feel part of the innovation process. In the countries that run frequent and systematic campaigns, they have a higher statistic on these survey points.
Campaign leader kits
Companies that take the campaign process seriously have begun to develop campaign kits - a kind of education pack which enables sponsors and administrators to follow a guided process for launching and managing their campaigns. A European engineering company found that sponsors often want to just start and run something immediately, and underestimate the work involved. The first step towards improving this is an interview with the sponsor, where they are asked to define the problem, decide how much investment they will provide for winning ideas, allocate time for people to run the campaign process, and define the criteria for judging ideas. If these steps are not fully explored the campaign does not go ahead.
- Innovation Manager, European Engineering Company
A campaign questionnaire is a good starting point for developing these leader kits, but it needs to go further into the specifics of communication. For example, showing details of past campaigns - what worked and what didn’t - can serve as inspiration for new sponsors. It is recommended that innovation teams keep a workbook of every campaign, listing hard factors about participation and outcomes, along with soft factors such as the written communication and word of mouth feedback from participants.
Define the high level hunting grounds for new ideas
Balance your campaigns between strategic and tactical
Cost saving and process campaigns help to build momentum
Always-open suggestion boxes can create skepticism
A campaign leader kit helps to create a consistent approach