How can I better source ideas from employees, even when they are working from home?
When looking for new ideas, some large organizations take their talent searches beyond their own walls. Almost one-quarter of Fortune 500 CEOs at the world’s 2,500 largest firms were hired externally from 2012 through 2015. Sometimes these executives are hired to reboot the operations or provide fresh perspectives to the organization.
That particular arrangement is less common at SMBs and middle-market companies, which are more often run by founders and other early employees. Still, the inclination to search outside the company for inspiration can be irresistible. Seeing what competitors or other experts in the field are doing at the moment is undoubtedly a key part of staying competitive, but it’s not everything.
Internal crowdsourcing: A promising approach to getting useful ideas
Internal employees have a lot to contribute, after all. A June 2019 Wall Street Journal story chronicled a trend of companies sourcing more ideas from their individual workers, in the process decreasing their reliance on senior executives, R&D teams, and consultants.
It’s a good approach, since, who knows more about what a company should do than the people who’ve worked there day in and day out? Indeed, looking internally for ideas has key advantages, as it:
- Keeps employees engaged and helps them feel like they’re making important contributions.
- Allows for more rapid implementation of plans, since there aren’t external stakeholders and communications to navigate.
- Builds institutional knowledge and boosts employee confidence about the organization’s collective capabilities.
- Makes intellectual property management more straightforward.
At the same time, this internal crowdsourcing approach has some potential drawbacks, too. One of the biggest is in establishing the right process for gathering these ideas, one that doesn’t disrupt existing workflows and add yet another distraction into the mix. Let’s look at this problem and others in more detail.
Recognizing the common challenges in internal crowdsourcing
Overall, there are several hurdles to overcome en route to effective internal crowdsourcing.
First, employees might not feel like they have sufficient time and bandwidth to work on projects that aren’t central to their responsibilities. Moreover, they could see participation as not worth it even if they did have the time, since there might be little or no feedback about what happens to the ideas after they’re initially sourced. Make sure that you provide the time for the workers involved, not just adding additional work to an already stressed workforce.
Internal crowdsourcing can scare off potential participants if it feels competitive. For example, the process might have a competitive design, in which employees aren’t encouraged to work as a team but instead individually, with the best ideas getting rewarded. This setup can make employees feel like they’re under pressure and uncomfortable. Make sure that you communicate the expectations clearly upfront to make sure that all team members know what is expected of them.
Disruptions and poor communications
Related to the other two issues, internal crowdsourcing can go awry because employees:
- Receive a lot of seemingly urgent/high-priority communications about an upcoming idea session that they all eventually become noise.
- Feel like they have to participate despite some reluctance about the time investment and the sense that they’re being evaluated by managers, too.
- Hear nothing after the fact, making the entire endeavor seem like a waste.
This issue, like the others, is at its core procedural and cultural, but specific communications tools and how they’re used can also contribute to the associated difficulty.
For example, constant email reminders about a crowdsourcing initiative can feel pretty disruptive, plus they can sow ill will if the event ends up not respecting the participants’ time, effort, and input. The actual format of the sessions can be problematic or unproductive too (like a conference call with numerous people on it trying to talk over each other).
The whole point of internal crowdsourcing is to reach anyone and everyone at the company. Innovations and inspiration can spark from any corner of the company, regardless of job role or title. That’s why it’s critical that crowdsourcing initiatives are accessible to everyone. Relying on an in-person meeting, for example, might be logistically complicated (think trying to engage remote/mobile employees) and potentially leave out a good chunk of your employees.
Building a blueprint for better internal crowdsourcing
To provide the best value for everyone involved, internal crowdsourcing should be:
- Not dominated by one or two personalities.
Fortunately, modern collaboration tools can help.
For starters, a unified collaboration platform can reach everyone, putting messaging, video conferencing, digital whiteboarding, and more in a single convenient location so that employees can contribute from anywhere and any device. The same interface can be used to schedule, meet, and follow-up via chat, all without having to set up shop in a physical conference room. Furthermore, these platforms address the time challenge described above, by enabling people to participate as their schedules permit.
In an internal crowdsourcing session, someone could make and share a whiteboard drawing with other team members and then via instant messaging discuss how it might be implemented. This setup is less fragmented and more real-time than trying to source ideas over emails or phone calls alone. The process can feel less disruptive since it’s well-integrated into existing collaboration workflows and tools, instead of running parallel to them.
Pairing a team collaboration suite with other solutions like video conferencing allows you to include everyone in your organization in the ideation and can generally add more context and detail to internal crowdsourcing sessions. It’s a promising way to inspire and nurture new innovation for your business.
Once you get a good list of potential ideas from your internal crowdsourcing activities, you should rank each of the ideas based on the impact that they can have on your company from 1-10. The bigger the impact, the higher the number should be. Then talk about the ease of implementation. If you can implement it easily, without any additional resources you should rank it a 10, if you need to hire external resources or take key people from important projects then it should be scored a 1. Once you go through this exercise, you can find the most promising projects in quick order to execute on your strategic plan.
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