10 best practices for cross-border innovation. Number 6 assures community awareness

Photo: Ryan McGuire@gratisography.com

If people don’t come, your innovation efforts stand no chance. Active and clear communication is fundamental to maximising engagement, guaranteeing adequate participation. It also assures community awareness. Building a witty communication plan – one that lives and breathes innovation – is paramount for the success of your idea management programme across borders.

When putting it together, make sure you have a complete plan with clearly defined targeted audiences, across cultures and business units, key messages, a media strategy and frequency expectations. For such undertaking, you have to involve your HQ communication teams, as well as country and business communication teams, to develop more detailed and oriented plans.

Remember to communicate continuously, as the process evolves. The more individuals see the success of projects to which they have contributed, the more likely they are to remain mobilised.

#Have a witty communication plan
#Adapt communication locally
#Communicate continuously

Pedro do Carmo Costa, Exago’s director and co-founder

Number 7 ignites motivation

Innovation programme across borders: 10 best practices to make it work

TIP: The innovation keystone you may be missing

Photo: Seagul

When launching your innovation management effort, you must find a way to communicate that the initiative is bigger than just a simple project. We’re talking about the opportunity to define the company’s future. The opportunity to out-differentiate your competition and, more importantly, to write history together. Individuals need a purpose if you want them to dedicate their time to activities not part of their official job description.

So, do make sure you find what makes people jump out of bed in the morning – define a meaningful purpose, a strategic intent that shows how outcomes of the effort will benefit both the company and the world we all live in.

Insight: ‘In the end, the best talent will migrate to those firms that have inspiring goals, along with process, culture, incentives and investment that seeks out exciting innovation-driven growth opportunities.’ (PWC Demystifying Innovation, 2011)

Brick by brick
During a recent visit to ‘Sagrada Família Basilica’ in Barcelona, she came across three bricklayers. They were working on the same area, placing brick on top of brick.

She walked up to the first bricklayer and asked him, ‘What are you doing?. He turned his head and with a look of disdain said, ‘What do you think I am doing? I am laying bricks.’

She moved on to the second bricklayer. She asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ He turned his head and with a look of appreciation said, ‘I am making a wall.’

She approached the third bricklayer and asked him, ‘What are you doing?’. He stepped back, looked up and down at his creation. He turned to her with a smile and a glint in his eye as he said, ‘I am building a cathedral.’

What makes people engage in your innovation effort? Laying bricks, making a wall or building a cathedral?

Pedro do Carmo Costa, Exago’s director and co-founder / pcc@exago.com

FROM THE START: Innovation looks easy – it’s not

TIP: Is your innovation effort transparent enough?

Photo: Splitshire

Today the traditional model of ‘top management decides’ and ‘everyone else unquestioningly executes’ is less likely to succeed, namely in your innovation efforts. Leaders need to define strategy based upon established fundamentals and then clearly communicate that strategy throughout their organisation. Transparency is paramount in the twenty-first century enterprise.

When in collaborative environments such as innovation initiatives, if you don’t offer high transparency, participants become weary and start to disengage. This lack of transparency can happen in many ways:

  • Individuals contribute ideas or insights and there’s no feedback… or feedback takes weeks or months to arrive
  • Decision making about which ideas move forward is not clear or it is in the hands of only a very few individuals
  • The outcomes of the innovation efforts are not communicated, nor are the profits from them shared with the contributors

To make your innovation programme as transparent as possible – and thus keep people engaged -, here are a couple tips we’ve found helpful:

1. Implement a transparent screening process
At Exago, we are strong believers in the power of collective intelligence. We believe in the wisdom of crowds, that under certain circumstances a large group of individuals tends to make better decisions than a small group of experts.

Based on this belief, we have designed and implemented innovation management online models where ideas are generated and screened in an efficient and transparent way. Using a gamified platform, with a stock market approach, we ask individuals to ‘invest’ in the ideas they feel offer the most value to the organisation.

These decisions are made based on each individual’s experience, competence, and wisdom. Through this ‘idea stock market’ model we, along with all participants, easily discover which ideas are seen to offer the most potential. The great thing about this is that, besides being efficient and fun, it is fully transparent.

2. Communicate successes, contributions and outcomes
We seem to insist a lot on communication, don’t’ we? Well, here we go again: Make always sure you communicate individual and group successes, contributions and outcomes.

Pedro do Carmo Costa, Exago’s director and co-founder / pcc@exago.com

FROM THE START: Innovation looks easy – it’s not

TIP: How to duck the innovation implementation void


The cause of lower return in your innovation initiative is too often linked to implementation challenges. Some of it is beyond your control: Say you’ve run the front-end process and have successfully identified the ideas and opportunities that make the most sense to implement, but now you lack resources. As a result, the opportunity falls into an implementation void and you get the blame for the low return of your innovation management programme.

To tackle this, make sure you have a challenge owner ahead of the challenge launch (remember that identifying an owner for each challenge was part of assuring relevance, as described previously). The owner must be someone who feels urgency to solve the issue and who has the resources to implement the solution(s). This owner should have a personal stake in ensuring that an idea gets implemented.

Another way to avoid the implementation void is to negotiate an ‘Experimentation and Incubation Budget’ as suggested earlier when discussing lack of resources. A small venture development budget can go a long way toward saving good ideas that risk falling through the cracks. Having a budget to experiment and test some of the key assumptions and/or to implement the opportunity can help overturn this situation. It is far from being an ideal solution, but it is better than leaving good ideas on the table for lack of execution resources.

Insight: “Managers may not be the enemies of innovation, but they’re not the natural champions either. Their focus on improving profits through ever greater operating efficiency encourages them to reject new ideas that detract from these perpetual improvements.” (Demystifying Innovation, PWC, 2011)

Communicate, everything and always
We’ve already established the importance of sharing the quick-wins. It is just as important to communicate every single success throughout your initiative. Even if it’s a small success or a more intangible achievement, communicating your triumphs puts your efforts in a context of success.

Plus, as you know, everyone likes to be associated with successful projects. The more individuals see the success of projects to which they have contributed, the more likely they are to continue their active participation.

Pedro do Carmo Costa, Exago’s director and co-founder / pcc@exago.com

FROM THE START: Innovation looks easy – it’s not

TIP: Are top leaders tuned in?

If you have already started your innovation programme, you most likely have a mandate from top management. But do you have their attention?

These days you rarely find an organisation where innovation is not a part of leadership’s mandate. Yet time and resources dedicated to this area are vastly dwarfed by investments in quality, customer service, and efficiency. Why is this?

Innovation is, and will always be, a leap into the unknown. This rarely brings immediate measurable results (i.e. will not impact the quarterly results upon which CEOs are scrutinized).

The same is not true for areas like efficiency, quality, and customer service. These more traditional disciplines are taught as business basics in any university business class. They are the Kool-Aid most executives drink before becoming blind followers.

So, how do we change this?

Get leadership’s active engagement, not just sponsorship
Make sure you get leadership fully engaged by addressing their own business concerns and challenges – CEO, Executive Committee, and business unit leaders. Educate them on the topic of innovation management and show them the tangible and intangible results you’re getting from your innovation initiatives. You’ll get their commitment and engagement, not just their sponsorship and involvement.

As one CEO we’ve worked with once said, “In a plate of bacon and eggs, while the hen is involved, the pig is committed.” You need more pigs than hens, if you really want to pull this off.

Plan and negotiate ahead
Innovation is always a leap of faith. Results are rarely immediate and, when they are, it is mostly from incremental innovations. Undertaking an innovation initiative means embarking upon a long journey with a tentative map and the faith that somewhere ahead there will be an island with buried treasure.

Companies can’t expect results in the short term. The journey requires time. Make sure expectations are clearly negotiated ahead of the initiative’s start (i.e., make sure you align top management’s expectations in terms of expected outcomes). In our experience, it is also fundamental to negotiate at least a three-year budget. No one-year innovation management plan should be put forward as it is too easy to be shut down by short-term results oriented executives.

The good news is that increasing numbers of top executives are developing more realistic expectations regarding innovation outcomes. Arthur D. Little’s 2013 Innovation Excellence Survey found that while the performance of innovations has decreased on average since 2010, satisfaction with this level of performance has increased. This is no excuse to relax your efforts, but nevertheless good news.

Pedro do Carmo Costa, Exago’s director and co-founder

FROM THE START: Innovation looks easy – it’s not