What is an innovation challenge?
An innovation challenge, or an innovation competition, is a compelling way of generating innovative ideas. Participants are asked to generate ideas for creating new or improving products, processes, services or customer experience and remain engaged as the challenge progresses, through regular feedback and updates.
As well as proposing their own ideas, collaborating on their colleagues’ ideas enables participants to play an active role in selecting the winning idea.
This ‘game-style’ format creates high levels of engagement and a strong culture of innovation.
Why run an innovation challenge?
Faced with rapid technological advances, growing competition and changing consumer behaviour, the need for businesses to find innovative ways of gaining a competitive advantage has never been greater. Launching an innovation challenge can help you to:
- Unlock innovation potential through a game-like approach;
- Improve products, processes, services and customer experience;
- Optimise performance through a culture of innovation and improved ways of working; and
- Give everyone an opportunity to have a say, since ideas can come from the most unexpected parts of your organisation.
Selecting the challenge: open vs internal
The first step in the process is to decide what type of challenge to set: an open challenge or an internal one.
Open innovation challenge
An open challenge is accessible to customers, partners, suppliers and the general public, so you’ll receive ideas from within and outside your organisation. As well as the ideas garnered in-house, you’ll gain an “outside-in” view. Many companies, Nokia for one, run regular open innovation challenges.
Internal innovation challenge
As the name suggests, an internal competition is open only to internal stakeholders. It encourages a culture of innovation within your organisation in an effort to solve business problems and improve processes and products. The likes of Google, Microsoft, HP and Accenture all have internal innovation labs, which foster continuous improvements through innovation initiatives.
While both types of challenge have significant merits, we’d recommend starting your innovation efforts from within before widening the net, since the best people to suggest improvements are your own pool of talent, with their hands-on experience and knowledge of your organisation and industry.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on how to devise and implement a successful internal innovation challenge for your organisation.
How to run an innovation challenge
Here’s our step-by-step guide on how to set up your own innovation challenge.
1. Define your innovation goals
Set clear innovation goals that correlate with your strategic business objectives. This will increase employee trust and give a clear indication of how important your innovation goals are for the business. Employees will feel valued for their ideas, which will motivate them to participate in the competition.
2. Select the participants
Identify the key stakeholders to support you in making the challenge a success and set out what you expect from them. For example, global organisations who decide to launch a competition asking for suggestions for a new marketing campaign will need to choose whether to invite every member of their organisation (regardless of role and seniority) to participate, or maybe limit participation to regional marketing departments, the regional heads of each department or perhaps just the marketing team in the head office. This decision will depend on the innovation goals that you set in step 1 above.
3. Set the critical success factors
Clearly defining your critical success factors is crucial when measuring the success of your challenge. Define clear KPIs, including the number of participants, the number of ideas generated, how many ideas are implemented and the resulting improvements within your organisation.
4. Choose a platform
Choose how you’re going to run the challenge. You may wish to invite participants to attend the competition in the form of a live event or to set up a “challenge wall” at the office where participants can add post-it notes or cards with their ideas. Alternatively, you may prefer to use email or the intranet to host the challenge, or dedicated idea and innovation management software like Idea Drop’s.
5. Write the challenge
- Title: choose a short, crisp title.
- Description: highlight why the challenge is being conducted and what you hope it will achieve.
- Visual aids: include supporting documents, images and videos. We’re all visual creatures, so images, videos and gifs will help to increase engagement. Include these in presentations on your intranet and website or attach to a challenge card if you’re using idea management software.
Here are examples of one “bad” and one “good” innovation challenge from an HR director looking for ideas about how to recruit more frontline officers.
In the first image, the message jumps directly to a call for action. It’s missing important information about why the competition is being set and what business objectives it will achieve.
In the second image, the message is much more specific, setting out the business problem that needs solving and including clear instructions about how to participate in the challenge.
6. Create a timeline and set deadlines
Creating a timeline and setting deadlines keeps the challenge moving forward at the right pace. Set targets for every stage of the process, from communicating the challenge through to implementing the winning idea. Idea management software is advantageous here as, by automating the process, it can make setting deadlines and monitoring the progress of each idea through to implementation simple and straightforward.
7. Set rewards
With their eyes on the prize, rewards and recognition encourage participants to put time and effort into coming up with innovative ideas. Being recognised for their contribution to your organisation also increases employee motivation and boosts participation in the innovation process
Here are some suggestions on how you can reward employees for their ideas:
- Recognition: Don’t underestimate the power of a “thank you”, both privately, and in public.
- Monetary rewards: You could attach your existing bonus system to ideation.
- Celebration: parties, breakfasts, or even after work drinks are a great way to celebrate achievements.
- Time perks: Who wouldn’t love an extra day of holiday, to use as they please.
- Other perks: From a better desk chair to a free lunch, there are plenty of small ways of rewarding employees.
8. Communicate the challenge
Effective communication is key to mobilising employees and creating an impact. Pick the channels that best suit your company and are most effective for communicating with your stakeholders. These will generally include a mix of the intranet, email, live meetings and so on.
9. Monitor engagement
Managing engagement is as important as communicating the challenge effectively. Regular reminders as well as speedy responses to queries and acknowledgment of ideas will help to maintain the momentum.
10. Foster a community spirit
Give prompt feedback and encourage participants to collaborate with each other about their ideas. Sometimes an idea is not fully honed at first, but inputs from other colleagues can make it fly.
If you’re using idea management software, participants can express their views about an idea by leaving a comment, “favouriting” it or rating it. This will contribute to an overall “idea score” to help you identify the most promising ideas.
11. Review all ideas and choose a winner
Thoroughly review and evaluate all ideas and choose a winner whose idea fulfils your organisation’s business objectives and the innovation goals you’ve set. While the evaluation process will differ for each organisation, you’ll need to choose a method of ranking each idea within select categories to decide which ideas have potential and which don’t.
12. Recognise every contributor
Share the news that the participants are eagerly waiting for. Use channels like email, intranet and Yammer or, when using idea management software, post a bulletin. As well as explaining why you’ve chosen the winning idea, it’s important to acknowledge each participant’s contribution to ensure that they’re motivated to take part in future challenges.
Maximising the impact of your challenge
An innovation challenge has many moving parts, from idea crowdsourcing and capture to managing employees’ expectations and tracking deadlines.
Idea management software can make running an innovation challenge less, well, challenging and more successful by streamlining the whole process: automating idea capture and review as well as collaboration and deadline setting. And, at any given time, the centralised software platform means that anyone can find out what’s happening with each idea as it moves forward.
To get the most from your innovation challenge, engaging with your employees, evaluating each idea carefully and communicating effectively throughout the process are, of course, essential.
Organisations that don’t listen to their employees’ ideas or that ask for ideas on an ad-hoc basis but don’t action those ideas will find motivating their employees to participate in idea generation very difficult. Understandably, employees will assume that their ideas won’t come to anything, so why bother?
Change management methodologies, like the Prosci® ADKAR Model, can help to increase employee engagement by raising awareness and managing expectations.
Alternatively, using idea management software gives you and your organisation full transparency throughout the innovation process. At any stage, participants can log in to view ongoing and past challenges, every idea that’s been submitted and the status of each idea, as well as all the feedback and comments received for those ideas.
Idea Drop’s software measures ideas based on crowd sentiment to quickly identify the most promising ones. It also allows you to easily bring other people into the evaluation process by tagging them in comments and asking for their opinion. This different perspective is often crucial in making an idea viable and helping to move it forward.
The way you describe your challenge can be make or break. Misleading or incomplete information, inconsistent messages and late responses won’t attract the right ideas, engage participation or spark interest.
Rise to the challenge!
Setting an innovation challenge is a compelling way of engaging employees with your innovation strategy and making them feel valued for their contribution to your organisation. And the ideas a competition generates are often the seeds of significant innovative solutions to solving your business problems and improving performance while promoting a strong culture of innovation.
To find out more about how Idea Drop can help you create an innovation challenge to crowdsource, curate and implement the best ideas from your people, get in touch with a member of our team or schedule a demo today.