Every business wants to be as nimble and innovative as startups, but ambition and execution can be two very different things. A Harvard Business Review survey of 3,500 corporate professionals in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Germany, and India earlier this year found that most employees believe that innovation is the responsibility of everyone at the company, but many workers aren't getting the resources that they need. Lower level employees said that management was neither inspiring them to innovate nor giving them the opportunity to do so.
This is bad news for any company that wants to foster a culture of innovation and encourage that most elusive of employee – the intrapreneur.
Tap into the Wisdom of the Internal Crowds
Crowdsourcing ideas is one way to uncover the entrepreneurial talents of your workforce. Virgin Australia runs its Ideas Lab specifically for this purpose. Ideas Lab is a platform where employees can share ideas they come up with on their own, or in answer to specific questions set by management. The platform helps Virgin Australia get insight from front-line employees who have a direct experience with the challenges the the company needs to address.
“Once we understand the biggest opportunities...we post specific challenges that give everyone the opportunity to suggest how we can solve them," Christopher Stubbs and Emma Mehaffey, who run Ideas Lab, explained on the firm's blog.
Leverage Internal Social Networks
Using your employees also applies greater brain power to internal problems. Many firms, for example, are discovering social interaction on employee networks can also spur innovation. Social networks give workers a place to air problems and ask co-workers for solutions. In addition, they also provide a place for managers to connect informally, a way to provide handy information like the employee handbook, and a venue for social conversation where reviews of local lunch hotspots and invitations to social activities can be posted.
Internal social networks can speed up problem solving. GE Aviation uses Salesforce's Chatter to connect its sales and marketing people, allowing them to share information about customers and get answers to pressing questions.
“What might've taken a team - in the best case - a week, can now be done in minutes," GE's CMO Beth Comstock told Salesforce. “The immediacy and the touch points of Chatter change commercial business as we know it."
Encourage cross-pollination across departments
Virgin Australia has found that teams can often have surprising insights outside their field of expertise.
“Colleagues have many varied backgrounds and viewpoints and often move disciplines during their careers, so why should an engineer not have a great idea to help solve a marketing challenge and why can a marketer not have a great idea to solve a performance challenge in an operational area?" asked Stubbs and Mehaffey.
Virgin already has a strong culture of intrapreneurship – Sir Richard Branson famously gave employees the opportunity to come up with the design for the first class beds on Virgin Airlines. Using crowdsourcing like its Ideas Lab is all part of this drive. It's a simple equation - thousands of brains applied to a problem versus just a few trying to brainstorm solutions in a team.
Provide a platform for crowdsourcing
Innovation expert Eugene Ivanov also cites crowdsourcing as an important part of any company's innovation strategy. Writing on his Innovation Observer blog, Ivanov says companies need a “functioning Internal Innovation Network (IIN)", whether it's a dedicated platform like Ideas Lab or an employee social network where ideas are also shared.
“Corporate intrapreneurship requires close coordination of multiple functions within an organization, both that are (R&D, Business Development, Marketing) and are not (Finances, Legal, HR) directly involved in the corporate innovation process. However, in the majority of organizations, there is no institutional platform for all these units to collaborate on strategic issues," he says.
“IINs provide such a platform… [and] help identify emerging corporate intrapreneurs who - especially in junior positions and in geographically remote units - often remain unnoticed to the corporate innovation leaders. Because IIN platforms are intrinsically democratic, they provide voice to every employee regardless of their rank and location in the company."
Crowdsourcing is a proven but underutilized tactic
Crowdsourcing is a powerful innovation tool, but it's rarely used by companies. Gartner's 2016 CIO Agenda Report found that crowdsourcing was cited as the most effective independent discipline for innovation in the IT department, but it was used by fewer than ten percent of the businesses surveyed.
For many corporations, crowdsourcing offers an untapped opportunity for accelerating innovation, as it creates an environment in which new ideas are uncovered quickly and every employee's experience and expertise is brought to bear to solve problems and address challenges.
If you enjoyed this post you may also like our post on Intrapreneurship vs. Entrepreneurship: Both Sides of the Table.
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