Within every organisation there are people with great ideas that could transform the way you work, improve your customer’s experience and solve your biggest (and smallest) challenges. It’s no longer a question of whether we should be tapping into our crowds, it’s ‘can we afford not to?’.
It was this fundamental belief in people that Crowdicity tucked under its arm as we launched our first Australian office three years ago. Fast-forward to November 2017 and Virgin Australia, Energy Australia, Cricket Australia, ABC, CSIRO, WWF and more use our crowdsourcing software to capture the best ideas from their people and drive a culture of innovation. In fact, chances are that if you’re reading this in Australia your life may already have been changed for the better by an idea generated in a Crowdicity platform.
To celebrate our third birthday, we’d like to share our eight top tips for successful innovation!
1. Trust your people
Organisations hire people because they’re capable, experienced and trusted. Customers buy products they believe in and crowds form around values that mirror their own. Your people are your people for a reason, and you’re right to trust them.
The most successful organisations acknowledge that ideas are the privilege of the many, not the preserve of the few. By tapping into their ‘crowds’, these organisations are changing the game and discovering new ways of interacting with those who have the answers they need to succeed. We’ve seen it time and again… if you give your people a platform to ideate and collaborate openly and transparently towards collective goals, great things can happen.
Energy Australia use Crowdicity to drive a culture of innovation. We use the platform to tap into our employees unique and deep knowledge, bring new ideas and opportunities to the fore, in order to light the way for our customers.
It’s worth remembering that often the best ideas can come from the least likely of places. So, cast your net wide, embrace the broad spectrum and support those who contribute.
At its simplest innovation software is a way for organisations to overcome distance, share best practice across silos and unite disparate groups behind overarching goals. Simply, a diverse crowd becomes a genuine competitive advantage. Now for that crowd to engage is as quick and easy as clicking the link to the ‘Ideas Hub’ (or whatever you might call yours). When that engagement also helps meet people’s basic needs (belonging, impact, development) it simultaneously supports the collective goals of HR, L&D, Communication, Strategy and more.
2. Lead from the front
The most successful organisations frame, drive and communicate around the launch of their platform simply and from the executive level. They use it as an opportunity to be inclusive, to motivate, educate and inspire. They tie their goals for innovation to their overarching vision and set expectations, both ways. And they position their people at the centre and fortify them with the knowledge that they are believed in to help make the difference.
Swinburne research and innovation strategy has placed innovation at the core of what we do. The innovation precinct has a number of objectives. The underpinning objective is to create an innovation campus, an innovation university. We’ve used Crowdicity as our virtual environment to connect people with ideas, to generate the dialogue across the campus, across students, staff and researchers around ideas and around co-creation.’What we’re now doing is trying to make the most of those ideas and realise commercial potential.
The executive endorsement piece is key throughout the innovation journey. For innovation to permeate every level it should have a place at the executive table and a regular spot on its agenda. Efforts to bring about ‘change for good’ should be discussed, celebrated and recognised. It’s through this affirmation and recognition that you filter down expected behaviour and stimulate the right kind of engagement. By democratising innovation companies can build people up, develop them professionally and reduce perceived ‘power distances’ – the impact of which can be especially powerful for organisations traditionally hampered by a fear of failure or recrimination.
3. Define innovation
If you were to ask your people what innovation means to them, they’d more than likely tell you they don’t see it as part of their role, their responsibility or, worse, their capability. Organisation-wide, you’d likely find at least one of the following to be true:
- Few can define it.
- Those who can have differing definitions.
- Pretty much everyone thinks it’s someone else’s responsibility.
Innovation itself just means ‘new ideas’. Nothing difficult there. Over time, however, the term has been cast and re-cast. It’s also been diluted – have you ever seen an advert with the word innovation sprawled across it and little else? Our definition is simple, accessible: ‘change that adds value’.
When every second organisation already has innovation as one of its core values, what will innovation mean for you and your people?
4. Innovation is a behaviour
In the short term, the goal of most organisations is to capture ideas to solve a challenge or capitalise on an opportunity. In the medium to long-term, however, the goal is often to bring about a lasting behavioural change in the way people engage with innovation and the organisation. A good software platform can stimulate and encourage the behaviours you need. The best can make innovation fun.
Gamification is a great way to reward and recognise the behaviours you need to get the outcomes you want. After all, it doesn’t matter whether you’re aged 16 or 60, everyone loves a bit of public recognition. Once behaviours (such as constructive collaboration) are identified, use tools within the software and interactions outside of it to shine a spotlight on people doing a great job. Actively innovative organisations seize opportunities to promote and reinforce value-adding behaviours.
We had an overwhelming response with a strong sense of collaboration and comradeship among the participants. The gamification element of the platform not only made the process fun, it made the contributions stimulating, engaging, and really helped to sustain the momentum.
Always remember to celebrate the collaborators. Real cultural change happens through recognition not only of those coming up with the ideas, but also those who vote, comment and collaborate on other peoples’ ideas. These people are the change catalysts - without them, ideas would never become anything more.
5. Understand your context, define your goals
Our primary objective is to bring ideas out of the labs, out of the offices, across the campus. By identifying those ideas and helping our staff to realise those ideas we are in fact realising our innovation agenda.
Today the threat represented by disruptive innovation exists on the fringe of every industry. At this very moment and in every city in the world, there are motivated individuals in passionate pursuit of change, bright minds with the belief things can be done better, prototyping, refining and limbering up to change the game. Disruption doesn’t discriminate.
On top of that, innovation is one of the most reliable and attractive routes to competitive differentiation and growth (see "2017 CEO Survey: CIOs Must Scale Up Digital Business" and "2017 CIO Agenda: Global Perspectives on Seizing the Digital Ecosystem Opportunity"). And we agree. There’s certainly something alluring about being, or simply striving to be, innovative. It can be emboldening, and so it should – trying new stuff is cool, aiming high is inspiring and being on the edge of anything will get the adrenaline going.
If you’re looking to create a culture of innovation, the key is to be self-aware. Understand your context, acknowledge your biases and examine your opinions before diving in. If not, the water could turn out to be deceptively shallow. And always remain vigilant around the tripwire that is ‘innovation theatre’. When innovation is nothing more than a paper-thin marketing tool, a little bad weather and the whole thing falls apart.
Every year WWF-New Zealand seeks out game-changing ideas that will change the face of conservation, as part of the Conservation Innovation Awards. Each year we award three prizes of £25,000 to game-changing innovators.
A few other important questions as you plan what innovation will mean for you might be:
Q. What does ROI mean to us?
Q. How should we communicate to the crowd?
Q. What does success look like 3 years from now?
Q. How should we surface and develop the best ideas?
Q. How can we stimulate ideas that offer genuine value?
Q. Do we have the infrastructure in place to deliver on the best ideas?
Our program provides a sand box for trialling ideas - a safe place to develop, test and demonstrate value without large investment. Last year we placed 22nd in the Australian Financial Review’s ‘Top 50 Most Innovative’ list (top ranked state government department). Next year the Crowdicity platform will help us to achieve two key priorities - enhancing the way we engage with stakeholders, and delivering exceptional customer experience.
(Western Australia Land Department) - Crowdicity Client
Plan, but not exhaustively. Being ‘innovation-ready’ is not the pre-emptive imposition of overly complicated scenario plans for the broadest possible spectrum of outcomes. After all, this wrongly assumes the ability to neatly predict outputs before having begun.
In our experience, some of the best and brightest cultures of innovation didn’t know when they began the ideas that would change them in the future. And that’s ok. The beauty of crowdsourcing is not in knowing where you’ll end up, it’s in deciding to take the journey together.
It’s vital that you feedback to the crowd.
We’ve seen organisations with the best intentions try to collect ideas using a combination of email and excel. While the intention is good, the medium is opaque. Once submitted, ideas seemingly fall into a black hole and without any communication about what’s happening to their ideas and why, people become disillusioned and disinclined to submit any more.
Open, honest, constructive communication is key. For that reason, any platform you buy should have feedback loops built-in. The most successful companies we’ve seen use their blogs, custom pages and branded emails to raise awareness of upcoming challenges, draw peoples’ attention to topics needing a little more traction, celebrate wins and shine that spotlight on people doing a great job.
7. User Experience is King (& Queen)
The system's ease-of-use and functionality will make it a breeze to collaborate with start-ups, government and industry on key projects and garner feedback on how people want to transact with us in the future.
With the proliferation of different technologies being introduced into most organisations today, it’s important to understand why users will engage, and why they won’t. Of course, understanding people’s motivations is a fundamental part if this, but so is user experience.
Technology users today expect ‘ease of use’ to come as standard. You can have all the bells and whistles you want, but if the user interface (UI) is clunky or unintuitive, they’ll become quickly frustrated.
When investing in a platform to engage your crowd, settle for nothing less than a frictionless user experience. Not only should it look great, it should be just as easy for someone to submit an idea in the front end as it should be to filter and manage the best ideas in the back end. If you can tick these boxes your crowd will engage more easily and more often. It will become part of your culture.
The elegance of the user interface is spectacular. Whether system administrators, like myself, or first time end users, there is a natural flow to the platform. "Where do I go to..." "It is too complicated.
8. Software alone won’t make you innovative
Investing in shiny new software alone won’t make you innovative (and that’s coming from the people who sell the shiny new software!). Successfully weaving innovation into your culture is a function of how you frame, drive and communicate around your platform to engage employees, stimulate inputs and drive outcomes.
The most successful innovation cultures we’ve seen have worked in partnership. Regardless of who pays for the software, embedding it into the culture happens best when the executive, technology, strategy, HR & communications work together to make it happen.
As for what software you choose, remember to ‘be in love with the problem, not the solution’. Choose the right partner for you. If you can, choose a solution that isn’t just a software provider and benefit from their experience to help you inform and evolve the way you engage your crowds.
Most importantly, the Crowdicity customer support staff were absolutely outstanding. They were very responsive and went the extra mile to help make this a successful campaign.
Gartner’s 2017 Innovation Management Report recently identified Crowdicity as a leading provider in Asia Pacific. We’re proud to generate 40% of our global business in Australia and happy to share our experience to help others crowdsource ideas from their people.
Like you, we believe all your people can be brilliant if you give them the chance.
So, go on, engage your crowd...
Ignite their potential...
And let them shine.