by Trevor Lightfoot

Harness the power of employee innovation with these five best practices.

For many organizations, innovation is the essential ingredient behind long-term growth and success. Of course, building a culture of innovation sounds great on paper. But experienced leaders know the road is fraught with obstacles. Organizations often lack the tools and processes necessary to channel innovation from within. Employees lack incentives and time to focus on innovation. Plus, the unpredictable impact of innovation efforts on organizational culture can heighten reservations around pursuing new ideas.

So, how can organizations harness the power of their people and core competencies to drive innovation? In early 2019, a small team of Point B consultants set out to develop and pilot a replicable approach to help our clients meet this challenge.

Our goals included:

  • Develop a user-friendly digital innovation platform where employees can submit ideas
  • Introduce a simple framework to catalog, analyze and consider those ideas
  • Create a plan to incentivize, reward and recognize employee participation

Along the way, we identified five key principles that organizations can use to help harness the power of employee innovation.

Point B’s Perspective

Seek Feedback Early; Act on it Often

From the onset, we knew we needed an intuitive and appealing idea intake process. We created a digital intake platform, crisp graphics and carefully thought out messaging to engage and guide employees through the process. However, when we launched to a broader group, some users struggled to navigate the platform, which risked turning them off altogether. Their feedback provided the essential insights we needed to improve the user experience, reinforcing the need to be proactive in gathering and incorporating end user input.

Use Prompts as a Launchpad for Idea Generation

As we looked at pain points that inhibit creativity, we found that pressure to create ideas from thin air left some employees feeling hesitant, or even intimidated. Conversely, when presented with narrowly defined problems, some felt their ideas weren’t unique enough to warrant proposing. Striking a balance between open-ended ideation and overly-specific problem solving is key to harnessing the power of idea generation, without stifling creativity. Prompts like “how might we improve engagement with local elected leaders?” or “how might we increase market share in ‘market x’” help address this challenge, while also aligning ideas with organizational goals.

Align Innovations with Organizational Strategy

The momentum that comes from exploring new ideas can lead to tremendous growth. However, makeshift pursuits can waste time and resources, hindering efforts to develop a more innovative culture. We found that leaders can play a pivotal role in mitigating these risks by identifying ideas that align with long-term organizational objectives. Getting leaders and other key stakeholders involved early in the process helps all players see the holistic vision of new ideas. Plus, it helps build buy-in and allows decision-makers to sponsor and put resources behind pursuits that align with organizational strategy.

Unlock Engagement with Rewards and Recognition

It’s no secret: Taking an idea from lightbulb moment to reality requires time and resources. Employees may have game-changing ideas, but day-to-day responsibilities make it difficult to engage more deeply in essential activities like research and analysis, which often fall on those who propose innovations. We explored a number of strategies that helped ignite employee engagement, from rewards and gamification, to curated idea generation events. While there’s no one-size-fits all approach, we found that meaningful rewards and recognition programs are an important piece of the innovation puzzle and should be crafted based on employee input and preferences.

Create Power in Numbers by Combining Ideas

When the platform launched, we encouraged employees to submit all ideas that could lead to more organizational innovation. The volume of responses exceeded expectations. Submissions ran the gamut, from humble to grandiose. We suspected that big ideas would bubble up to the top. However, the more grandiose ideas were often too large-scale to be viable for a pilot program. Instead, the team focused on the high number of smaller-scale ideas. By analyzing and identifying common themes, we were able to combine ideas to create some of the most compelling and precise concepts.

The Bottom Line

Your employees have ideas – lots of them! A carefully crafted innovation platform can help channel that creative energy into actionable plans that support your long-term goals. When organizations get it right, it’s a win-win. Employees are recognized and rewarded for their creativity and problem solving while the organization benefits from break-through ideas that drive growth and success.