Corporate Entrepreneurship and the Power of the Employee – Part 2

Eric van Niekerk – Research Lead, Innocentrix

In Part 1, we had a look at Employee Innovation – what it is, and why it is beneficial to large organisations. We also touched on some examples from Google and Adobe. As promised, in this article we will discuss how to actually get your employees innovating.

Which employees to involve

Employee innovation makes use of employees in the organisation, especially those inhabiting a non-innovation portfolio. But how do I select which employees to involve in this drive? The answer is simple – all of them. Google, famed for its innovative employees, found that a Stanford education and perfect STA scores do not make for innovative employees. Actually, innovation performance correlated far more with motivation and drive than impressive educational backgrounds. This means that all employees have the potential to innovate. Also, involving as many employees as possible means that a variety of different viewpoints can be incorporated and different professional and social backgrounds can lead to the creation of new, unique ideas – ideas that would have been inconceivable otherwise. It is not difficult to see why this have the potential to lead to better results.

Involving large amounts of employees in an innovation drive may seem like an intense challenge, but it doesn’t need to be.

How to involve people

Involving large amounts of employees in the ideation process can be viewed as a real challenge for management. Luckily, this is a challenge that has been faced and successfully addressed many times before. A case study on Vodacom in the Innocentrix Innovation League Report shows how the organisation initially started out with a small pilot and steadily grew this initiative to show real results.

So, where does one start? According to Vodacom’s Innovation Head, Jannie van Zyl, a “well-designed structure” is the key. “Once a solid structure was in place, implementing the innovation program was less challenging and we could concentrate our efforts on the task at hand, using innovation to enact our strategic goals”, says Jannie.

A well-designed structure is enabled by a “fit for purpose” innovation management system. Several innovation management systems exist that are specifically designed to support organisational innovation management. Using an innovation technology system allows for one, centralised platform for innovation participation and implementation from all levels of the organisation.

Success lies in engagement

An important aspect of the type of innovation exercise to keep in mind is that employees cannot be forced to contribute innovative ideas. Rather, employees should be encouraged to participate by creating an understanding of the importance of innovation within the employee body. If an organisation’s employees understand what the goal of innovation activities are, and why it’s important, they will be more likely to become engaged with the project. If innovation goals are aligned with organisational objectives, and employees are shown how innovation can impact their own specific areas of responsibility, they are also more likely to contribute. The Vodacom case study mentioned above showed how successful this method can be: the initial employee innovation drive was run “under the radar”, and soon generated more ideas than anyone anticipated.

Although, even after a successful engagement drive, it is important to consider that you will never get everyone in the organisation to constantly innovate, and many never will. The role of the innovation manager therefore is to build the innovation business case, align this with the organisation’s overall vision and to understand the organisation’s culture and defined innovation portfolio. It never makes sense to start with a view that everyone will use the innovation system to its fullest potential. Therefore, know your internal target market, plan engagement levels for at least the first three years and negotiate your licensing models accordingly. The aim is to improve engagement levels, increase active users, get the word out and to show results, while getting value for money and demonstrating ROI.

To achieve this type of engagement, innovation activities need to be funded: By investing in innovation training for employees, as nearly 95% of South Africa’s top companies do, an organisation can greatly increase the quality of employee innovation output. This can be done through innovation workshops and organisation-wide innovation programmes, attending events, international fairs and trade shows and by more traditional methods like training on innovation and lateral thinking techniques.

Further input can include guidelines (or the creation of innovation challenges in order to focus efforts on the right things) and measurement criteria to track outputs. If employees know what type of new projects the organisation wants, and the links between organisational business goals and innovation objectives are clear, a solid framework will be provided to drive targeted innovation outcomes.

Rewards

Ultimately, employees who contribute implementable ideas should be rewarded to encourage the behaviour. Though, getting innovation reward right is a difficult topic – monetary awards may encourage employees to hoard ideas and be competitive instead of sharing, while some non-monetary rewards may feel lacklustre.