Making Innovation a Repeatable Process

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Every company talks about innovation, but how many put the infrastructure in place to make innovation a key aspect of their business? Innovation is not just an output – it is also a process that requires cultural and technological support to help you manage the complexity. Many organizations try to leverage industry standards (such as the IDEO and NABC models), but also want to modify those standards based on internal best practices and to support their unique business requirements. Some try to do this leveraging SharePoint as the primary knowledge repository, but struggle to make it work. Why is that?

Companies need a consistent method for moving an idea through a formal review process, and the ability to elevate an approved idea to a formal project where action can be taken – and innovation measured. You cannot improve upon something if you cannot monitor and measure its progress and results. To understand the business value of ideas, and to track the return on investment of innovation generated from your own employees, you need something more structured and formal that a Suggestion Box in your lunch room. And you definitely need something more that a slightly modified SharePoint list to track outputs.

The idea evaluation process you employ can vary depending on the type of idea, which right there adds more complexity that most people are comfortable building themselves out of the box with SharePoint. For example, a cost-cutting measure, or a suggestion for improving the customer experience might have a much lower bar to meet than would an idea for a new product introduction, or even an improvement to internal systems and processes, which could include considerable costs, time, and resources to take action – and may also include risk to existing business norms.

If you missed last week’s webinar with Mike Oryszak (@next_connect) and I where we discussed the value that formal idea management can bring to the traditional SharePoint knowledge repository, you should definitely watch the on-demand recording. Check it out:

From Ideas to Innovation – Formalizing Idea Management in SharePoint

In the webinar, we walk through some of the pros and cons of using SharePoint OOTB, but we also spend a few minutes showing you what the Beezy team has built for Office 365 and SharePoint, and how we can dramatically improve your team’s ability to capture corporate knowledge – and build a repeatable innovation engine. The solution is completely configurable based on these kinds of decision matrixes, with appropriate workflow behind each idea type.

Within most organizations, idea management should be more about aligning with their internal culture than about mapping to a formal methodology. Common sense tells us that the better the fit with the culture, the more likely people are to use the solution.

At its core, an idea management solution must provide a method for employees to:

  1. Submit ideas to a centralized location, where they can be expanded upon, edited, and appropriate supporting materials attached.
  2. Share ideas with peers and managers, where they can be refined, defended, and expanded through the collective input of the team.
  3. Align ideas with other existing plans and projects. An idea may closely match that of an existing plan, and steps may have already been taken to make the idea actionable. By allowing ideas to be discoverable and aligned with existing material it will further strengthen the idea.
  4. Archive ideas, creating a knowledgebase of input from across the organization, with shared tags and conversation history that allows the team to leverage this historical data.

Additionally, incorporating idea management into an organization’s social collaboration capabilities can be a highly-effective method to raise visibility, and the level of dialog, surrounding employee suggestions. By leveraging the social capabilities within Beezy, for example, such as the ability to vote up on the best ideas, helps to elevate community consensus.

After being reviewed by management, the best ideas can then be promoted to team projects where actions can be assigned, tracked, and measured, and where employees with winning ideas get public recognition. In fact, beyond the business advantages of employee-led innovation, idea management can have a profound effect on the overall level of engagement with employees. Public recognition is a top factor in generating employee engagement.

And for innovation to happen, you need an engaged workforce. If employees are not engaged, they are not generating ideas, sharing best practices, discussing how to optimize and improve the business, or performing at their best.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and fractional-CMO for revealit.io, tyGraph, and Extranet User Manager.