In today's competitive business environment, effective idea management is essential for driving innovation and staying ahead of the competition. But how can you ensure that your idea campaigns are producing results?
Here, we detail 10 key strategies to help maximize the success of your idea management program, from aligning your idea campaign with strategic priorities and gaining executive support to using targeted campaigns and building a network of innovation advocates. Using these strategies, companies can create a strong culture of innovation, generate valuable ideas, and achieve meaningful business results.
Let's dive in!
1. Align your idea management program with the organization’s strategic priorities
Alignment with your organization's strategic priorities is key. Use your goals as a starting point, formulate a definition of what "innovation" means in your organization, and set an innovation strategy aligned with your company's vision.
Pro tip: Turn abstract strategic goals into straightforward, more tangible innovation areas, and you'll see a surprising side effect. People seem more excited about innovation than strategy formulations. As a result, even a newly started innovation program might celebrate an early success simply by getting employees "on board" with the broader company strategy.
2. Get management support and buy-in
Innovation programs, whether focused on idea management or other parts of innovation, die quickly if they don't have leadership support. For long-term success, your program must be seen as an asset of strategic value to the company.
Beyond top management, you also need middle management to be on board. After all, you’ll need them as sponsors for your idea campaigns, and you’ll need the help of experts to evaluate ideas - that means their line managers will need to give them time to fulfill this role. Once ideas have been selected for implementation, you’ll need their support again: If they don't take responsibility for implementation, the ideas may never see the light of day.
3. Get sponsors for your program
To generate impact (and not just ideas), you need sponsors with the authority and budget to implement ideas and concepts. Having a sponsor builds trust in your idea management program's process and impact, which helps encourage participants to submit ideas that ultimately deliver the results you need.
When seeking a sponsor for your program, begin with the end goal in mind and explain what you'll do with the ideas and why are they important. And settle on a budget upfront for implementing ideas. Once you select an idea or concept to take forward, ensure there's a straightforward handover of ownership.
4. Use targeted idea campaigns
Idea campaigns are an excellent tool for collecting the right ideas at the right time. And targeted campaigns are ideal for generating ideas that answer a specific need.
At the start of an idea campaign, it’s important to provide insightful background information as well as a statement of the main problem you’re seeking to solve in order to show your ideators what type of ideas you’re looking for. Setting a time limit on idea campaigns is a useful tool for stimulating the crowd; many people are deadline-driven, and knowing they might be too late should encourage them to submit their ideas.
Pro tip: Long-term engagement comes from relevant, as well as varied, campaign topics over time. Variation also gives you the opportunity to involve different parts of the organization, connecting different people and providing solutions to a number of departments. And remember to always be specific and realistic in your requests.
5. Inspire creativity by seeding ideas
When you ask for innovative ideas, you’re asking people to be creative and come up with something entirely different from what they do in their daily job. That’s not an easy task, especially as prior conditioning can prevent participants from engaging and sharing ideas. Seeding can be an excellent solution for overcoming this challenge.
"Seeding" or "seed ideas" refers to posting creative, radical, and different ideas to your campaign topic BEFORE the official idea submission phase. These seed ideas help to stimulate alternative perspectives while giving a clear frame of reference for what types of ideas you’re looking for and which solutions your experts have already considered.
6. Build a network of innovation advocates
When you build an innovation program involving many people in many different locations, you’ll need local representatives, or “innovation advocates” for your program.
Sometimes you’ll know these people because they were involved in similar activities before. Sometimes you’ll be able to identify them over time, for example, because of the high number of contributions they’ve made on your innovation platform. This network will become your local eyes and ears and help with local questions and challenges.
Pro tip: Try to find an advocate in each department, and/or location.
7. Consistently communicate about your program
"Communication is everything" is probably the number one advice idea managers give to one another. Activities related to innovation management programs often fall outside of people's day jobs, and although your innovation program is the number one priority for you, it's not top of mind for everyone else.
Your audience will forget about you and your program if you stop communicating. For long-term success, you’ll need a communication plan and the right attitude. It significantly enhances the success of an idea management program if you proactively address the audience and top management, are always looking for a stage to perform on, and are always on the hunt for new allies throughout the organization and beyond.
Your communication plan should include idea campaigns, consistent feedback, and reviews, promotion of collaboration, reports to senior management, progress updates, and education of key stakeholders and the crowd.
8. Be transparent
When building your innovation management program, it’s likely that you'll need to overcome a certain degree of skepticism. Innovators may view the process as vague or fuzzy, and others may think it's a waste of time that won’t result in tangible benefits. You'll need to be as transparent as possible about the complete process and report on key performance indicators (KPIs) to build trust, grow sustainable sponsorship, and engage your audience.
Pump manufacturer Wilo kicked off its ideation program with a guided tour for its employees of all its local subsidiaries. The innovation team asked the employees to "develop" a paper plane. The participants were taken through different stations, each representing a phase of the innovation process. This served both as a means of communication (with a dramatically positive effect) as well as helping to make the innovation process tangible and transparent.
Regular and transparent reporting is essential. During the early phases of your innovation program, you can report on engagement numbers and submitted ideas. And make sure you report on the impact of any implemented ideas as soon as possible so that you keep senior management engaged. That’s much easier for cost-saving campaigns than for highly creative or radical ideas. But even if it's hard to ascertain the exact financial impact of, say, a new product idea, you can seek to develop a formula that helps predict the likely impact.
9. Plan your evaluation phase
When creating an idea campaign, start with the end goal in mind and work backward: What are you trying to achieve? What evaluation method and which criteria will best determine which ideas fulfill this goal?
Your evaluation process should be clearly communicated to your contributors and evaluators. Often, the evaluation team and/or sponsor will be busy subject-matter experts. Make sure requirements and deadlines are communicated early on to prevent delays.
10. Recognize and reward top contributors
Recognition is crucial for sustainable engagement and the long-term success of the program. Recognition for idea contributors can take many forms, depending on the organization’s size and culture, for example, monetary rewards, presenting your idea to an audience on stage, or dinner with the CEO.
The type of recognition is less important than the fact that recognition is being given. But be careful what you reward and recognize! Your success depends on the quality and business impact of the ideas your idea campaigns generate, not on the number of submissions you receive.
A well-executed idea management program can be a game-changer for organizations seeking to foster innovation and drive business growth.
By aligning the program with strategic priorities, gaining management support, securing sponsors, utilizing targeted campaigns, and seeding ideas, companies can create a base for creative thinking and idea generation.
Building a network of innovation advocates and maintaining ongoing communication ensures widespread engagement and participation.
Transparency and effective evaluation processes build trust and credibility while recognizing and rewarding top contributors motivates and sustains enthusiasm.
By following these 10 strategies, companies can unlock the full potential of their collective intelligence and achieve remarkable results.