Tapping a diversity of perspectives has been empirically proven to increase the quality of ideas. Indeed, this is one of the benefits of setting innovation communities. By investing some time in establishing a community management plan, organizations will see a nice return on their innovation efforts.
There are three distinct phases to innovation community management:
- Early Community
- Mature Community
Each phase has its own characteristics, strategies and tactics. We’ve produced a paper outlining these in full, and want to share some of that here.
Pre-Launch covers the period from initial decision to deploy an innovation platform to the day it is made available to a community of employees. There are a number of activities needed to make the launch day a big success. A couple of these are described below.
Recruit the early enthusiasts. Most projects undertaken in organizations benefit from the energy of those employees who have the most enthusiasm. The establishment of an innovation program is such a project. Early enthusiasts will be found among those with a demonstrated interest in:
- Advancing innovation
- Improving the way the company operates
- Use of social software
Early enthusiasts are great as sounding board during the planning phases. They are testers for iterations of concepts to be applied once the community is live. And they will be the distributed experts early on, helping to raise awareness and guide employees on the new initiative.
Establish the innovation focus areas. Determine the areas of focus for employees’ ideation and innovation advancement efforts. Providing direction is a key component of surfacing ideas that will make a difference. The focus areas can start out limited to a set of key opportunities and issues that need addressing. Organizations can also use their top strategic initiatives as their innovation target areas.
Of course, there should be room for those good ideas that don’t fit a specified area. Keep a “general” category in place for collecting those ideas.
After launch, the community moves into its early stage, roughly defined as its first three months. This is a critical period for the innovation program, as first impressions of its place in the organization and management’s attention to it are formed. This phase has its own activities. Here are a couple of them:
Lieutenant community managers. With large-scale communities,
distributing the interactions with employees makes the innovation program scale more quickly and effectively. Remember the early enthusiasts recruited during the Pre-Launch phase? These colleagues, plus others that demonstrate enthusiasm and capability after launch, are the best candidates to be the initial team of lieutenant community managers.
The role of lieutenant community manager is not meant to be a full time job, or even one that takes up hours of the work week. But community managers can be local resources for questions and suggestions about the innovation platform, as well as local beacons of awareness. It helps for employees to have conversations in-person.
In addition, the lieutenant community managers pass along feedback they hear to the primary community leader.
Engage participants: In the initial days and weeks after launch, there should be a program to engage employees on their contributions. This includes commenting and rating the contributions of employees. Comments can discuss the specifics of an idea, or be more general (e.g. “Thanks for sharing”). Feedback on contributions – ideas, comments, blog posts – are also important for establishing an employee’s online reputation (in Spigit, that’s the RepUrank score).
The employee who has taken the time to post an idea or offer feedback on someone else’s idea has demonstrated an interest in the organization’s initiative to improve innovation. Don’t miss an opportunity to grow this interest for the benefit of the company.
Once the community is established, it will grow on its own accord. Employees will become comfortable with the open nature of participation on the platform. They will make new connections within the organization. Ideas will emerge from the platform to become full-blown initiatives.
Relative to the Early Community, different activities rise in importance in more established communities. Here are a couple of them:
Run regular time-boxed ideation events: A best practice seen with some of Spigit’s clients is to establish recurring ideation events after the initial launch. These events can really be characterized as campaigns. They refresh employees’ innovative juices by focusing on issues that workers are experiencing today. And the fact that management is calling for and paying attention to these ideas has a motivational aspect.
These events will relate to specific corporate objectives. They are valuable, because they get employees thinking in terms of ideas for improvement, not just daily tasks. They also are a source of reliable community engagement.
Establish a measurement orientation: Recognize that the internal community exists to fulfill an important strategic goal for the organization: faster and better innovation. Set goals for ideas generated, conversations held, and ideas that turn into new projects. Capture valuable anecdotes as well. If the community is not yet hitting these targets, conduct root cause analysis to understand how to improve. This orientation is an important check on managing the performance and health of the community.
Innovation is a top priority for organizations globally. Similar to other key initiatives, it needs to be measured to ensure optimum performance.
If you’re interested in learning all the best practices for managing employee innovation communities, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and request the white paper, “Succeeding with Employee Innovation Communities”.
(Cross-posted @ the Spigit Blog)