Over the past few weeks, I’ve been exposed to literally hundreds of organisations’ innovation programs as part of the BRW Most Innovative Companies list. And there seems to be a common theme that many innovation programs revolve around: Events.
Just to clarify, I’m not talking about reward dinners or off-site days here, but rather the events that centre around employees pitching their ideas to a crowd and/or panel. Yes, I’m talking about internal versions of Shark Tank and Dragons’ Den.
There are many good reasons why organisations focus a lot of energy and resources on such events. It could be to promote and encourage innovation, to help establish a safe-to-fail culture, to showcase leaders support and financial commitment for innovation, or it could simply be for fun. However, regardless of the reason, these events should be used with caution. They could be putting the sustainability of your innovation program at risk.
So, why are these events endangering your innovation program?
Firstly, it suggests to employees that innovation starts with ideas when in fact idea generation is halfway down the best-practice innovation process. Employees need to find out where the biggest opportunities for innovation are before they even start coming up with ideas, otherwise they could be coming up with solutions to problems that aren’t even important! Luckily you can find out where the biggest opportunities are by engaging with your customers in truly exploratory research- read about it here in Amantha’s post.
Secondly, these events run the risk of looking like lip service if the right supporting elements are not in place. The moral of the story here, is don’t ask for ideas if you’re not ready to support them. I’ve seen many organisations throw events like these with the best intentions, however for one reason or another, they have not supported the idea owners post-event with the processes, capability and resources (mainly time) they need. This often leads to participants feeling frustrated and demotivated to participate again as they do not have the support they need to be able to progress their idea.
And lastly, these types of events tend to be run annually, however even if they were repeated on a bi-annual or even monthly basis, this is not a sustainable approach to innovation. For innovation to be sustainable, it should be happening everyday with each and every employee in your organisation. Innovation should not just be for a select few people, on a handful of days a year.
To make sure that your innovation events don’t threaten the sustainability of your innovation program consider the following when planning your next event:
1. Think about why you want to run this event and see if these results can be achieved in any other way. For example, if you want to encourage a safe-to-fail environment, this could also be achieved by rewarding those who learn from failure as well as those who succeed.
2. Make sure that you have robust supporting elements in place for those who get to progress their ideas. It’s crucial that successful participants not only have secure funding for their idea, but that they’re also trained in the process to take their idea forward and given the time to do this properly. If you’d like more information on building employee capability in the best-practice innovation process click here.
3. Show employees that innovation doesn’t start with ideas. Encourage employees to use the organisation’s innovation missions and to conduct their own exploratory customer research to uncover the biggest opportunities for innovation. It’s only when these biggest opportunities have been discovered should ideation begin.