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Innovation SOP: Tips for Today’s Leaders on How to Launch Successful Employee Innovation Programs

Qmarkets’ Innovation Standard Operating Procedures (SOP): In this series, we will present different guidelines on how to bring innovation theory to practice. Many times, trying to launch successful employee innovation programs at your company can entail encountering many pitfalls and stumbling blocks, as illustrated in this example from the Harvard Business Review. This week, we take a look at how to launch an effective innovation program within your organization – and more specifically, how to get your CEO and employees on board to help get these types of programs off the ground.

When senior leadership says they want ‘innovation’ within the company, what does that mean? Innovation programs often fail because of extensive development time, inability to accurately measure performance, and other factors. Without a proper innovation plan and strategy in place, innovation within an organization remains nothing more than an elusive idea.

As detailed in this recent McKinsey report, high-level aspirations from executive management must also be met with estimates of the value that innovation will generate to meet financial-growth objectives. Quantifying an “innovation target for growth” – and setting it as a defined part of future strategic plans – helps solidify the importance of and accountability for innovation.

Getting Your CEO on Board

CEO support for a company innovation program cannot be overstated. As the CEO goes, so goes the company. A CEO’s role in leading innovation should begin with identifying your company’s biggest pitfalls and potential incoming disruptions, and showing the benefits that such a program can have in helping your company overcome these challenges.

Successful Employee Innovation Programs Chart Comparison
Nearly 1,400 CEOs from 79 countries stated that innovation is the thing they’d most like to strengthen in their companies. Source: 20th CEO Survey, PriceWaterhouseCooper, 2017

Innovation giants like Google or Apple may find that innovation comes naturally, but that’s not the norm for the rest of the business world. The fact of the matter is that while most business leaders agree that innovation is important, few know how to properly manage it. As this study by the Harvard Business Review illustrates, innovation for senior management involves thinking out of the box and changing an organization’s status quo. In many cases a company’s innovation program only takes off after senior management changes its prevailing patterns and habits, and creates specific targets for different types of innovations.

Having the CEO’s support will also help handle opposition to the program from within, due to in-office politics. While there is no denying that an innovation program will clearly be beneficial to the departments running the program specifically, and will largely benefit the entire company as a whole, there is still a large amount of inner-and inter-departmental wrangling over initiatives such as these. One of the main reasons behind these power games is that a successful program such as this can advance the career of the one championing the innovation program over those of his peers, which makes them less willing to support the initiative. Enlisting CEO support can cut through this opposition swiftly. In this case, the value of having a Chief Innovation Officer can be beneficial as well, to help develop more trust and communication between senior leadership and employees.

Below are several things you can do to enlist your CEO’s support for your initiative:

  • Present your CEO with examples and case studies of companies who have successfully launched and taken advantage of an innovation program.
  • Give examples of some things which your direct competitors are doing. This provides your CEO with the impetus not to be left behind.
  • Seek an opportunity – find an issue that is something that your company has marked as a strategic challenge. Then, tailor your innovation program to provide results which will provide solutions for that direct challenge.
  • Two are better then one – learn who are your allies in the company, and partner with them in order to provide a solid front when you approach the CEO. Find a partner who can act as a sponsor for the program within the organization, someone who can combine their strategic challenges and problems into yours, so that they can also be addressed by your innovation program. This has the advantage of showing the CEO that there is demand for an innovation program from inside the company, as well.
  • Do your research – provide the CEO with all of the information they will need in order to make an educated decision. This includes options, pricing, targets, milestones, achievements and projected results.
  • Don’t let up! Once you’ve made your presentation to the CEO, you will need to keep the issue alive and on the CEO’s agenda, or it can end up as just another good idea that was never brought to life.

Doing all of these can help bring the CEO over to your side. The next step, and just as important, is to now create support for your program from the other half of the equation:

Gathering Employee Support

So where do employees come into the picture? The answer is that no matter how much support you have from the top, without employee support, your program will stagnate and fail. As employees try to accommodate innovation goals set by senior management, they are often unequipped to communicate what they need effectively enough to see innovations through. What’s needed is for management to communicate to employees what the benefits of a program are to the company as a whole, as well as the benefits of the program for those who participate. This can include offering rewards for bringing the best idea, or using gamification to engage and motivate employees to achieve their goals.

Examples of successful employee innovation programs are plentiful. When Amazon created their ‘idea box’, an Amazon engineer named Charlie Ward came up with the idea that some customers would be willing to spend and shop more if they could be part of a buying club that offered fast, free shipping. This idea eventually turned into Amazon’s hugely successful Prime shipping offering.

« It was important for us to include the employees in the process, as they are the ISA’s most valuable resource. They have the experience and the knowledge – both regarding the challenges facing the work at the ISA, as well as how to face those same challenges and solve them. » Yael Weiss Efron, Innovation Manager, Israel Securities Authority

Zipcar also found the power of turning to their employees for innovation. The company was looking for a way to sign up, service, and help members manage their memberships from their phones, so they turned to their employees for help. They utilized innovative techniques such as employee ‘roundtables’ with customers, and invitations to meetings where senior management discussed their new mobile initiatives directly with employees. The result was a more motivated workforce, and new ideas for the company to use in getting their mobile products on track.

These types of programs ultimately should come from the ground-up, and benefit the employees themselves by motivating them and making them feel like they’re part of the success of the company as a whole. This recent article from Deloitte discusses how innovative companies can look internally to their own employees for inspiration – such as hackathons for assembling employees’ ideas, opening up feedback tools, and providing better ways to offer employees improved benefits and rewards.

Investing Wisely in Innovation

Once you have your resources in place, you’ll need to carefully consider exactly how you want to invest in your innovation program. Looking for low-cost solutions often results in ‘getting what you pay for’. Low-cost platforms don’t lead to a sustainable culture of innovation, and companies that have more formal innovation programs perform better and grow faster than companies without a structured system in place.

Ad-hoc, do-it-yourself solutions are lacking in the best practices that a professional innovation management platforms such as Qmarkets provides. Qmarkets improves internal communication throughout the idea management process, making creating a culture of innovation built on trust and collaboration far more efficient. Offerings like Qmarkets’ Q-max are built into the platform, and provide advanced functionality to give you full control of your company’s innovation process and idea management.

Qmarkets’ idea and innovation management platform encourages collaborative work by providing a single location for all innovation sharing. Take a look at Qmarkets’ options today, to find out how your organization – from employees all the way up to the CEO – can best optimize innovation in your enterprise, and help lead the charge for change.

To find out  how Qmarkets can help you become an innovation leader at your enterprise, as well as create successful employee innovation programs to meet your objectives, be sure to contact us today.

Ben Gross Author
Ben Gross

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