Great news…you’ve established your innovation platform to solicit ideas, and gosh, did you get them! Hundreds of ideas. Wow!
It just doesn’t make sense to go into an innovation initiative with only half a plan. As in, a plan to market to employees and get the ideas, but not have nailed down what happens afterward. Do that, and you’re going to regret the deluge. Employees will rightfully grouse, and become cynical.
It is vital to have a plan for soliciting ideas. It is also vital to have a plan for handling the ideas once they are submitted. This benefits both employees and management:
Before addressing the benefits, what exactly is a governance model?
Who Does What When
If you needed a headline for a governance model, that’d be it. Let’s break it down:
Who: Companies decide who has a role in the process of evaluating, informing and approving ideas. It is a given that many, if not most, ideas will impact different areas of an organization. Ideas will also collide with other ideas and projects that need resources.
Ideas also generally, and properly, start out incomplete. It’s important to reduce the friction to capturing good ideas. There will others inside an organization who are well placed to build out an idea with their authority, knowledge and experience in a domain. Companies should:
- Identify internal experts for a given category
- Identify decision-makers for a given category
- Identify connectors for a given category
These are the people with roles to play in the process. Knowing who these people are beforehand is critical to getting the most from an innovation program.
This isn’t a control on the front-end of ideas being posted, nor of the discussions that occur. Locking that down damages innovation. But it’s important to recognize the basis on which resources are allocated inside a company, and integrate people with responsibilities into the process.
What: As an idea progresses from half-formed concept into full-fledged project, it receives plenty of feedback and refinement along the way. In terms of governance, it’s important to have a sense of what these steps are.
As ideas vary in their scope and what they address, it can be hard to set a one-size-fits-all approach to what steps are needed to advance an idea. But there are some best practices here:
- Have a connector follow up on posted ideas, and share it with others who may be interested
- Get a recognized expert to write up a review of the idea
- Have an expert provide additional input on a good idea to improve it
- Have departmental heads provide reviews, as needed
- Departmental heads approve ideas
Here’s a key thing about the ‘what’. Don’t make everyone do all these actions for every idea! With limits on time and attention, getting experts, connectors and department heads involved should be reserved for ideas that have made it through an initial filter. This filter includes have the initial community suss out what ideas are most interesting.
Of course, as the case may be, individuals with an interest can track new ideas per category or by key word to augment what the crowd identifies as a top idea.
When: Pace is an important factor in the innovation process. Establishing a general “innovation tempo” keeps things moving. Ideally, companies create an atmosphere of quick decisions and little experiments.
As described in the ‘what’ section above, there will be a series of steps that an idea has to go through. It makes sense to sequence them. For instance, finance may need to provide a review and/or approval for an idea. But you don’t need finance doing that too early in the process. So the ‘when’ for a finance review only happens after an idea has gone through several previous steps. At a point where the idea is “knocking on the door” to becoming a project.
The other aspect of ‘when’ is to set expectations for turnaround times. These need to be realistic in light of work people already have on their plates. But they can’t stretched too far out, because ideas lose their attention, and the company’s innovation tempo suffers.
Benefits for Employees and Management
As shown in the flow chart graphic above, establishing a defined innovaiton governance model benefits both employees and management.
Employees: Seeing the way the process of innovation is mapped out is a HUGE benefit for employees. Think about how innovation inside a company happens now. It’s often ad hoc, and not entirely clear to employees where the buck stops, or how they can make a difference.
With a defined process – which includes flexibility for idea variance – people have a greater confidence an idea gets a fair heating. And they also know to whom they can talk if they just know the idea has merit. Having a highly motivated employee lobby for an idea is valuable. Even if the original idea must change, you want people to have a stake in it, and passion.
Management: As mentioned above, companies need to establish their innovation tempo. It’s no good to say you want innovation (and its amazing effects on the company stock price), without putting in place the culture, process and technology to make it happen.The innovation governance model shouldn’t be etched in stone. It needs to be adapted as companies learn what works and what doesn’t in the process.
The other benefit of establishing the governance model is that you learn where your innovation bottlenecks are. As ideas flow through the governance model, see where they get hung up. Why do they get hung up? This learning process by itself is highly valuable.
Avoid innovation chaos. Set up your flexible, adaptable governance model.
(Cross-posted @ the Spigit Blog)