You might think the individual leading a company’s innovation program needs to be an “ideas person”—but I disagree. The real skill is in uncovering and advancing ideas from others across the business.
Great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. However, getting employees to actively share their brainwaves is far from easy. They’re busy doing their day jobs. But they have valuable perspectives, which could help the company come across a winning idea. So, for an innovation leader, how do you create a culture to bring the best ideas forward?
At Campbell Soup Company, we have quality thinking across all levels, all regions, and all functions—so it would be crazy to keep innovation in a silo in the research and development (R&D) or marketing teams. We use a platform called Spigit to inspire, collect, and accelerate “crowdsourced” ideas from employees. This means we get volume and diversity of ideas, whether the ambition is to come up with new products, business models, services, or approaches to solve problems. We recently used the platform to run a Shark Tank-style innovation challenge. Surprisingly, the four finalists emerged as an HR professional, a salesperson, a scientist, and a chef. This is not your usual cast of innovators, but if we hadn’t opened innovation up to everyone in the business, their ideas would likely have never seen the light.
Ask the Right Questions
When bringing employees into the innovation process, the magic happens when you find a challenge that people feel passionately about. For example, when we used the platform to ask employees to contribute ideas on cost savings, which is a topic we discuss quite frequently, the feedback was more limited. But, when we asked for more open-ended questions linked with company vision and strategy, we found huge demand among our employees to put forward their ideas to support and drive innovation at the company. Uncovering ideas is all about igniting the passion of the crowd to really get employees engaged in the process.
Run Innovation Road Shows
Yes, there is value to be gained from the ideas themselves, but another key benefit of crowdsourced innovation is that the culture of inclusive innovation it fosters increases employee engagement—and this can have a huge impact on business results in itself. We didn’t want innovation to just be happening at HQ, so we went on the road—from Mexico to California to Connecticut—to make sure everyone felt empowered to share ideas. At these sites, we ran 1-hour “Innovation Jams,” with attendees actually participating and submitting ideas instead of passively watching a PowerPoint® presentation. This really helped to make employees across the business feel valued, which is key to building a sustainable program and culture.
Reward Individuals for Winning Ideas
There are different schools of thought on this. Some people believe in financial incentives, but we found that people were more motivated by the personal recognition and bragging rights of submitting a crowd-pleasing idea. Born innovators want to see their ideas on leaderboards and, most importantly, being embraced, developed, and commercialized by the business.
Social media is another way to build visibility and recognition for top ideas and innovators. In fact, this happened organically at Campbell Soup Company, as employees taking part in the Shark Tank competition started to advertise their ideas on Workplace by Facebook to attract more support. Whatever you decide works best for your employees, the important thing is to make sure there is a mechanism in place to recognize individuals for contributing so they continue to be engaged in the program.
It is a virtuous circle; bringing the best ideas forward drives the culture of innovation, and sustaining a culture of innovation means continuing to encourage your workforce to share their great ideas. Get this right, and you will not only have the key to unearthing ideas from unlikely sources but also help to build an environment where people feel they play a meaningful, participative role in the future of the business.
Jeff George is the VP of Americas R&D at the Campbell Soup Company.