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While Innovation Programs have been around for some time, in the past 2-3 years there has been growth in two-major areas:

  • “Open” Innovation: A methodology, whereby ideas, inspirations and insights are sourced from outside of an organization.
  • Employee Innovation Networks: An approach that connects, educates and engages key employees around innovation skills, on an ongoing basis.

To date, both of these areas have been important to innovation leaders but in distinct and parallel ways. While this separation has made sense, it is now important for innovation leadership to consider how these focus areas can be better aligned to enhance business results. This should be considered within the context of interrelated, complex organization structures and the drive to enhance impact in an efficient manner.

As a result of these pressures, innovation leaders are seeking to connect both Open Innovation and employee networks with a combination of activities, including:

  • Open Innovation training: Companies can educate their employee network members around OI approaches and techniques.
  • Idea Development Training: Networked employees can be trained around how to help build elements of new ideas introduced to an organization.
  • Process, Tools and Resources: It can be beneficial for innovation programs to develop processes, providing resources and tools that guide participants as they seek to support new ideas introduced to the organization from external (or even internal) sources.
  • Communication channels: Communication channels can be created that are directed to network members, in order to encourage discussion around ideas that may be imported into the organization.
  • Strategy: As with any kind of innovation project, it’s important that a strategy is in place that aligns with the priorities of the organization.

The degree of alignment of employee networks and Open Innovation efforts vary, often in order of innovation maturity levels:

  • Awareness: Network members can be made aware of new thinking (specific ideas or thematic trends) that may be introduced into an organization or more broadly around Open Innovation efforts.
  • Champion: As new ideas are introduced to an organization, members can act as champions.
  • Resources: Members of these networks can be used to help develop new ideas, and provide opportunities for quick scaling of thought.

This kind of approach can generate significant benefits to the organization, including:

  • Enhanced idea success rate: Rather than new ideas being left to fend for themselves, the actions of network members can increase the rate of success of their development and execution.
  • Culture: This combined effort creates a deeper culture of innovation across the organization, by getting more people involved in deeper and more varied ways, in a way that limits risk and wasted resources.
  • Employee engagement: Giving selected employees (through an innovation network) the opportunity to further engage with the outside world, and align themselves with the development of new ideas, is a great way to drive engagement.
  • Scale: This approach helps scale the impact of innovation efforts across often complex organizations.

There are a number of factors driving the adoption of this new combined approach to innovation management.

  • Supporting a Collaborative Environment: For some time organizations have been seeking solutions to create more collaborative organization, often supported by technology solutions and other more personally focused efforts such as training.
  • Seeking the positive deviants: Science fiction author William Gibson famously opined that the future already exists, but that it is unevenly distributed. This notion, that in any field there are pockets of forward-thinking, was popularized by Richard Pascale’s work around positive deviance. In a corporate context, this theory can be seen as the process of using hidden innovators to help scale-up innovation activities more widely.
  • The changing role of managers: It is essential that middle managers are actively encouraged to participate and support both OI and innovation-focused networks.
  • Connecting the dots: Innovation leaders are often seeking to include influential "connectors" within their Employee Innovation Networks, so that they can help drive Open Innovation efforts, as these individuals can help drive the success of new ideas as they seek support within the organization.

Given that this is a relatively new approach, and only now being better understood within corporate environments, it is important to fully understand some of the challenges with this kind of effort:

  • Manage resources: Don’t overextend your existing centralized innovation resources, which can be stretched with integrated and complex implementations.
  • Plan: Be sure to have a fully planned strategic framework in place to guide your integration and development efforts.
  • Stakeholder buy-in: Pay special attention to your stakeholders, especially those that are going to be detractors.
  • Be patient: These efforts take time to form and drive results.
  • Report results: Track all business value.

Innovation leaders need to leverage their efforts at every opportunity, in order to not only further drive impact and results, but benefit Business Unit and corporate leadership. By combining both Open Innovation and employee networks, progressive leaders position themselves for creating greater business value and ultimately career success.

Note that a full whitepaper has been developed related to this article, that examines each of the key points from this article in more depth. Feel free to download it here.

This article was first published on www.innovationmanagement.se

About the Author

Anthony is the CEO of Culturevate, an organization that empowers a company’s employees to execute ideas and inspire a culture of innovation, through employee networks, a resource portal and training programs (developed in association with Professor Chris Labash from Carnegie Mellon University). Anthony is a widely read author, speaker and advisor to industry leaders at organizations such as Pfizer, U.S. Postal Service, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and Fidelity. He previously led the BNY Mellon innovation program and has a Masters of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).

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Anthony Ferrier

Anthony Ferrier

Anthony is the CEO and Co-Founder of Culturevate, a company providing industry-leading innovation training and technology. Anthony is an accomplished innovation leader, presenter and author with over