Five key dimensions for building your innovation challenges

In the process of setting objectives for your business goals, you should always think SMART – as management guru Peter Drucker applies this expression. To make your objectives easy to understand and monitor, they need to be Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-related. This mnemonic can be useful when establishing innovation challenges.

Challenge definition functions as the central pillar to your innovation initiatives, so you need to allocate time to consider this. Defining these elements is that first fundamental step that will help you create new paths.

Still, innovation challenges are not only pure objectives but also a means to achieve something in the process – people’s engagement, business alignment or a corporate culture of innovation, for instance. Inspired by Drucker’s criteria, we find it more pragmatic to structure challenges around the agents involved.

To do this, we have developed a hands-on toolkit to help define and identify vital challenges, ask the right questions and know how to ask them correctly, by considering the following when shaping your challenges:

If you are asking that extra mile from your employees, you surely want to channel their awareness towards a real priority and to tackle an explicit, solvable problem, engaging your people’s collective intelligence and concentrating on what really matters. You need to also remember to leave some space for more disruptive ideation, low-hanging fruit and other demands that can, in their own time, become equally important.

As we’ve seen, every company identifies with the more typical macro themes, including operational efficiency issues, better customer experience, sales and marketing strategy and sustainability goals. Some related challenges will more naturally address groups or departments and require specific skills, while other challenges will address your entire company.

This balance is fundamental, as you may need more expertise, but you don’t want to totally exclude anyone from this collaboration process. Your people’s cumulative know-how and experience are, in fact, your most valuable assets. For this reason, every cycle should include challenges to which everyone can relate, to which they connect intellectually and emotionally.

The ‘having the right processes in place’ is key to guaranteeing that ideation and discussion are open to everyone and that you can easily activate and harness your people’s collective intelligence. Different types of valued participation need to be incentivised and rewarded, to get the best out of each of your employees, individually and as a crowd.

Finally, you need to turn top ideas into real projects to assure your initiative’s credibility and keep people engaged through into the following challenges’ cycles. These new ideas coming out of your innovation pipeline will work together to make your business evolve every day.

You never know from where the next great idea will come. But you do know that you have to embrace incremental innovation, motivating your teams to take part in the ultimate challenge of continuously growing together, professionally and as a company.

Do you want to have a look at our complete Idea System Launch Toolkit? Reach us at:

Diana Neves de Carvalho, Exago’s CEO/ dnc@exago.com
Francisco Bernardes, Exago’s head of Innovation Services/ fmb@exago.com

FROM THE START:
Your ultimate innovation challenge – what works and what doesn’t

How to mobilise the right audiences for innovation challenges

When putting your innovation challenges together, make sure you have a complete plan with clearly defined, targeted audiences, across cultures and business units, as well as key messages, frequency expectations and a communication and incentives strategy. The overall point is to know and hit your targets:

• Target your skills and expertise first: Within your organisation, you almost certainly have people with different types of expertise, from several areas of knowledge, studies and work fields and with different conceptual and practical know-how. It’s this diversity and richness that you want to connect to, and focus on, real business problem-solving. Still, according to your challenge’s specificities – more or less technical and more or less field-related – you may have to engage more restricted groups within your organisation, such as engineers, lab technicians, machine operators and analysts. You may also need to look outside your company’s walls to include suppliers, external experts and other stakeholders. Your innovation tools should allow you to do just that.

• Ask yourself what you are mostly looking for: The framework shown below may be of use to identify your challenge goals and target community.

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• Remember innovation challenges do not capture all individuals’ interest in the same way: You have to create empathy, establish almost an emotional commitment. This is also of critical importance in geographically spread-out organisations. For example, inefficiency in a headquarter compound’s energy use in Switzerland is probably completely irrelevant to the same company’s Peruvian employees. Although corporate challenges need to intersect your entire organisation, remember to align them to local reality, also making room for more explicit priorities within specific industry and geographic focuses.

• Seek some balance: Use both specific geographic or know-how groups (i.e. targeted groups), if needed, but always launch more broadly-based innovation challenges, to increase the sense of community and improve transversal collaboration.

• Take into account again that, across geographies and cultures, people are different: Individuals can be more social or insightful, more creative or more logical and critical thinkers – skills that you also want to leverage. The most typical behaviours can be connected with four profiles used in the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology:
Achievers participate the most with ideas and comments to gather as many points as possible. They become huge contributors.
Explorers, who love to look around, are great at helping the community discover other potential contributions. They submit insights and diversify overall participation by doing everything.
Socialisers stimulate others to enhance their contributions. They submit many suggestions for improvement and love to check out what is going on, as well as watch leaderboards.
Killers love to compete for the sake of competing, and they are very active in the selection and evaluation process of ideas. They are great at differentiating what is good from what is less good and even greater at clarifying those ideas that are no good at all.

Participating has to not only be attractive and entertaining but also inclusive of all these types of players. Idea management software can help you do this as long as it allows several types of participation, such as idea and insight submission, comments to improve ideas and individual and crowd evaluation. From the beginning of the initiative and over time, gamification techniques also will prove helpful to engage your audiences in the innovation challenges.

• Make sure also that you have an appropriate system of incentives and recognition in place: This meets your audience’s different aspirations and motivations, stirring idea generation and added-value contributions. Periodic cycles of incentives – connected to challenge cycles – will ensure people want to improve their participation and remain involved over time. Remember as well to align the incentives with your publicly communicated purpose.

• Communicate continuously, from the beginning and as the process evolves: Good communication will play a part in making the challenge attractive to those who are called to participate. The more individuals see the success of projects to which they have contributed, the more likely they are to remain mobilised. For this undertaking, involve your communication teams – on a country and business level as well – in developing more detailed and well-oriented plans.

HERE’S WHAT OUR CLIENTS SAY ON THE SUBJECT:

‘The innovation challenges we launch for particular groups are typically more narrow because we are communicating to a target very familiar with a given topic or reality. We can then start from a more specific point and ask for answers that are more concrete. In more general challenges, we always chose more open questions, although we also guide these groups with insights to lead them and frame the challenge’s scope (explaining what exists, what is already being done and what has been tried without success).’

‘It’s important to match needs and competencies. Also, it’s very important to deliver feedback. Always.’

 

FINALLY, TRY THESE ACTIVATION QUESTIONS:
  • To whom is this innovation challenge useful, and who can benefit from meeting it? (This question supports you through alignment with country and department priorities.)
  • What incentives and messages should I use to engage my different teams?
  • Does it create empathy with the target?
  • Is the challenge being communicated in an attractive way?
  • Do I need specific skills or knowledge to meet this challenge?

Diana Neves de Carvalho, Exago’s CEO/ dnc@exago.com
Francisco Bernardes, Exago’s head of Innovation Services/ fmb@exago.com

READ MORE:
Are you building your innovation challenges right?

FROM THE START:
Your ultimate innovation challenge – what works and what doesn’t

How to pick useful and feasible ‘fights’ for innovation challenges

Here’s a simple but essential tip when establishing your innovation challenges: pick ‘fights’ that are useful and bring attainable value to your organisation. This means you need to guarantee your programme is relevant both to your people and company, namely:

• Make sure challenges have business relevance: Don’t solve problems you don’t have. Key business challenges make the most relevant innovation challenges.

• Also, remember to have problem sponsors: International idea management programmes have triumphed by negotiating innovation challenges with particular business unit leaders. Take leaders’ challenges and label them innovation challenges. This way, you’ll have your own champions. Understand, as well, what your champions’ motives are for solving the problem, since this builds you a stronger base from which to negotiate.

• Engage fully your C-level and innovation team: Prioritise those challenges that are useful to your C-level and make sure these leaders approve and support your initiatives. Leadership’s active involvement is key for programme success. Also, make sure that your innovation team is truly dedicated, embracing the tasks at hand.

• Identify key problems that need solving and can be solved: Look for discrete barriers to progress or opportunities within your innovation portfolio of projects. These can be articulated in a way that others, even those from diverse areas of expertise, have a chance to make important contributions to your progress. Also, be sure that your problems can be realistically solved. You need to raise the stakes, but you can’t afford to misuse resources.

HERE’S WHAT OUR CLIENTS SAY ON THE SUBJECT:

‘Sponsorship’s impact is enormous, and we can clearly see this in the number of average market users. In years with higher sponsorship from the CEO and space in internal communication, as well as more attractive prizes, we have many more active users.

‘A staff of committed people must be present in the back-office. No leader can do things alone.’

‘The feasibility of an idea is mostly a function of one’s capability of elaborating, processing and developing it. Newborn ideas are neither good nor bad. They are just ideas (usually very raw). As a matter of fact, the final implementation is always very different from the original idea. Instead, good problem setting is very relevant.’

 

FINALLY, TRY THESE ACTIVATION QUESTIONS:
  • How relevant is this problem? How urgent?
  • Whose problem is this?
  • Who can sponsor and promote it?
  • Can this problem be solved?

Diana Neves de Carvalho, Exago’s CEO/ dnc@exago.com
Francisco Bernardes, Exago’s head of Innovation Services/ fmb@exago.com

READ MORE:
How to mobilise the right audiences for innovation challenges

FROM THE START:
Your ultimate innovation challenge – what works and what doesn’t

Why innovation drives engagement among Generations Y and Z

If given the choice, one in four Millennials would now leave their current employer to join a new organisation or do something different. In two years’ time, the number increases to 44 per cent, says a 2016 Deloitte survey. A Gallup report also shows that US companies are losing $350 billion in revenue every year due to employees’ disengagement.

As the Millennials/Generation Y, born in the early 1980s through to the early 1990s, take the place of Generation X at work, all this becomes even more challenging. And Generation Z (mid-1990s to early 2000s) is already following.

If you’re a manager these days, you know that this X, Y, Z mishmash means:
• Loyalty is gone
• There’s a new set of values and priorities
• Technology is everywhere
• Change and innovation become the way things are done.

Combining Human Resources and Innovation expertise, Aylin Olsun, managing partner of ASO Company, and Diana Neves de Carvalho, Exago’s CEO, share insights and recommendations on how to increase the engagement of these ever more demanding employees, while strengthening your company’s collaborative innovation culture. You can get the paper “Why innovation drives engagement among Generations Y and Z” here.

Six common mistakes and one advice for innovation challenges

Operational efficiency is clearly ahead in idea implementation, while sales and marketing, sustainability and better customer experience count for more than half of all the ideas implemented. By dissecting the innovation challenges that performed the worst – and excluding extrinsic factors such as a weak system of incentives and feeble, meagre or uninteresting communication – we note that these challenges tend to be:

a. Unfamiliar or distant from people’s everyday work and needs;
b. Detached from current business strategic alignment: This may happen, for instance, if you launch a challenge focused on anticorruption, social inclusion or ecosystem protection, but your company has never, in your daily practices and initiatives, really shown interest in such themes;
c. Too technical for the target audience: Both technical and business jargon has the power to dismiss and demobilise larger parts of your audience;
d. Too abstract: Remember that, the wider the scope, the more people tend to submit ideas that are irrelevant for your business;
e. Too narrow: Yet, if you completely limit the scope, you may miss some relevant insights;
f. Ambiguous or difficult to understand: Linguistic complexity, such as unclear or complex sentences, may make you lose your audience’s focus and attention.

One of our clients suggests as well that “communication is important, but, if you find it is too important, then all the rest is poorly structured. You cannot feed a fire just with straw. . . Guidance on how to write a good idea must go well beyond mouseover suggestions.”

Also, remember that, even if you map the right tools and needs, other factors can still undermine the success and participation in your innovation programme. For instance, you should not expect highly engaging initiatives without first planning and rolling out an appropriate communication plan, as well as adequate awards, recognition and implementation mechanisms. In the next posts, we seek to give you a hand in establishing and structuring your innovation challenges.

Diana Neves de Carvalho, Exago’s CEO/ dnc@exago.com
Francisco Bernardes, Exago’s head of Innovation Services/ fmb@exago.com

READ MORE:
A step-by-step guide to defining your innovation challenges

FROM THE START:
Your ultimate innovation challenge – what works and what doesn’t