Idea management is an iterative process, which means it might take a few adjustments to make sure it’s working perfectly for your team. If you’re not sure what this is, or how to do it, you should check out our definitive guide to idea management.
With that in mind, here are a few of the most common early potential roadblocks you may face during the idea management process, and what to do about them.
Set goals for your idea management process
PROBLEM: You’re not sure if it’s working.
SOLUTION: There’s only one reason you don’t know if your idea management process is working: you haven’t set goals!
The only way to understand ROI for idea management as a function within your company is to set goals that reflect your overall business objectives and vision. Once you have a clear understanding of what your company is trying to achieve in the long and short term, you can start to define specific objectives that will shape and define your innovation process.
Goals can be broad and far-reaching or ultra-specific (more like ‘challenges’), from increasing employee engagement and retention, to finding one disruptive idea that creates a new revenue stream. Get your whole team involved in setting these goals, review them regularly, and make sure everyone knows what they are, and why you’ve chosen to focus on them.
Reward your employees for ideation and challenge them
PROBLEM: You’re not collecting enough ideas.
SOLUTION: Creating any fundamental organisational change is going to be difficult at times, but this one is about creating a cultural shift. If your team aren’t submitting any ideas, it’s likely that they’ve never been challenged to, or rewarded for doing so before.
First things first, you need to create prompts that sit within your internal communications. Where are the places you can remind people that their contribution is both encouraged and welcomed? Perhaps place a link in your company memos, or even create a physical poster that sits in your office. Ask your senior leadership sponsors to broadcast the message whenever they have the chance – this is their new innovation mission!
Second, make sure that your team knows where and when ideas can be submitted. Invest in good, accessible and intuitive idea management software, and provide training and clear guides for how to use it. If you feel like people aren’t sure when their contribution is welcomed, consider asking for ideas for specific challenges, perhaps even on a weekly basis.
Third, it’s all about positive reinforcement and closing the loop. Provide feedback on ideas, and broadcast successes both within the platform and externally. You might even want to think about setting up a reward program – make it fun!
Everyone needs a little nudge to get started, and ongoing encouragement to sustain momentum, but if you invest some enthusiasm now, you’ll reap the rewards down the line.
Establish idea evaluation process that’s easily scalable
PROBLEM: You have too many ideas.
SOLUTION: So your employees have taken to the idea management software like ducks to water, and you’re dealing with feedback left, right and centre? Though it might feel overwhelming, this is a great problem to have. Now, it’s all about management.
The key here is to establish a good evaluation system, with clear, goal-oriented criteria on which ideas should be discarded and which ones move forward, in light of your business priorities.
If you find that you’re fielding everything on your own, it might also be time to delegate responsibility for filtering ideas by assigning team ambassadors. Again, software can make the filtering process easier, particularly if there’s an option for other people to comment on and rate ideas. Remember to recognise and reward your ambassadors’ hard work, even if they’re not the originators of the ideas.
Find opportunities for collaboration
PROBLEM: Your team is not naturally collaborative.
SOLUTION: Innovation requires collaboration, but this can be hard in businesses where colleagues and departments are naturally very separate, and can be exacerbated tenfold when people work remotely. However, just because your team doesn’t need to work together on daily business doesn’t mean there’s no reason to find opportunities for collaboration.
If this is the case, you need to find ways to bring people together and start conversations both off and online. As with all change, you want to create opportunities, and then lead with clear, visible examples.
Create places and spaces for people to get to know each other, which might even mean going back to look at your company’s on boarding process. Are your employees told to connect, or simply to ‘get on with it’? Is there a reason to come to drinks on a Friday? Is there a creative component to your ‘all hands’ meeting, or is it purely for the passive absorption of admin?
If whole-company collaboration is too big, think about directing introducing two departments to work on a single, shared challenge. Even if they’re not a natural match, they might bring two interesting – and potentially even conflicting – perspectives to a problem, and find that they have something valuable to add from both sides; learning from each other along the way.
Finally, share stories about where collaboration has worked well within the business. If your team sees that it is possible, and understands how it pays off, eventually it will become a habit.
Have a plan for implementation
PROBLEM: You’re failing at the implementation stage.
SOLUTION: So you’ve collected and processed ideas, refined them, and developed them into a project that is worthy of implementation, but then…something gets in the way. Either ideas fall to the wayside, don’t get approval from budget gatekeepers, or fail in their first iteration and are discarded.
This can be very frustrating, but is all part of the process. However, if you find that time and again ideas seem to fall at the final hurdle, there are a few things worth considering:
Even if your ideas are great and you have a strong implementation strategy, consider that you might not be preparing a compelling enough business case to get buy-in from senior leadership. Refocus on considering how you explain and present your ideas to give them the best chance of a ‘yes’, identify specific gatekeepers and figure out what appeals to them, and implement (and document) small, evidence-driven pilots to bring your theories to life.
Once a few ideas have become ‘stuck’, try to really identify bottleneck points. Is this happening at the same place every time? Spotting patterns is a great way to figure out where the process might have a flaw, rather than the ideas.
Finally, realise that there is a difference between ideas constantly getting held back by process, and ideas sometimes failing. Failure is a huge part of innovation, and rarely means the end of an idea. If you find that you are dropping ideas after a single failure, you need to start thinking of your process as a series of iterations, rather than one-off attempts.