When I was first asked to help drive innovation in the workplace, the need for idea generation techniques to deliver better results never crossed my mind. I thought all you need are some fancy looking tools for innovation to generate and analyse ideas and wait for the great ideas to flood in. I was perplexed when very few ideas were actually submitted.
That was 15 years ago. Meanwhile, looking back now I realise how naive I was. Today, experience and passion have replaced naivety and youthfulness. For instance, having been involved in many innovative programs and designed many tools for innovation in the workplace for large organisations, I now have a better understanding of the idea generation techniques required to engage employees.
Here are my 10 essential idea generation techniques from the last decade and a half. These techniques will guide you if you are starting your own innovation program or support you if you are currently lacking employee engagement to generate ideas.
Idea Generation Technique 1: Leaders must show the way
The quickest way to generate ideas from employees is for them to see their own leadership teams active and engaged. Lead and others will follow!
Having leadership teams communicating updates and acknowledging individual accomplishments is very useful. However, nothing actually beats having them interacting directly with ideas and engaging in the idea management process itself. It is this active engagement that sends a ripple effect through an organisation and encourages employee participation.
And probably not surprising, the quickest way for any initiative to fail is to see their leadership teams disengage. This leads me nicely onto the next idea generation technique.
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Idea Generation Technique 2: Don’t let that initial momentum die
This is true for most company initiatives but particularly true when it comes to innovation in the workplace. There is a great push to launch a new initiative to generate ideas. However, that initial momentum soon begins to slow and longer periods of inactivity creep in. There are generally two main causes for this:
- poor (or lack of) communications
- little or no engagement by the leadership teams
The first is fairly easy to resolve with a clear communication strategy and regular updates. The second however is more difficult to prevent as leaders often become more and more distracted with other business priorities.
Idea Generation Technique 3: Lead with passion and influence
Innovation is a business-critical initiative. However, many organisations still see it as a second-tier business objective.
66% of the 800+ executives surveyed worldwide confirmed that their organisations could not survive without innovation.
source: PA Consulting Innovation Matters 2017 report
Therefore, the leader has to have a passion for ideation to be able to drive adoption with employees. The sponsor must have the influential skills to keep innovation in the workplace at the forefront of every executive’s minds.
Innovation is an initiative that every company should be embracing. With the right leadership, success is only an idea away.
Idea Generation Technique 4: Not all tools for innovation are the same
Embracing ideation as a key business initiative is essential. Likewise, so is choosing the right tools for innovation in the workplace to generate ideas.
All tools for innovation should:
- be simple to use – there’s nothing worse than the employee suggestion system being too complicated
- be easily accessible (including mobile) – inspiration can strike at any time!
- allow discussions around an idea – collaboration turns a good idea into a great innovation
- integrate into the existing digital landscape – embed ideation as an everyday business activity
- include Artificial Intelligence – accelerate the decision-making process
Understanding that not all tools for innovation in the workplace are the same has been one of the key idea generation techniques that have taken me a long time to get right. It has required a lot of trial and error in designing different innovation management tools.
See buyer’s guide to best idea management software for an in-depth understanding of choosing the right tools for innovation.
via Microsoft Teams
via Web Interface
Idea Generation Technique 5: Don’t make it standalone
People are inherently creatures of habit who do not always embrace change easily. Consequently, a standalone platform to generate ideas is much more difficult to attract employee contribution than one that already integrates into their existing company’s digital landscape. There was a 20x increase in user interactions for an employee suggestion system that I helped design for a Fortune 500 company when it integrated with their existing social network digital infrastructure.
There is tremendous value in having the latest business challenges, ideas and discussions feed into a company’s intranet. Ideas filter through seamlessly and become part of the daily business workflow of employees.
Idea Generation Technique 6: Artificial Intelligence is your friend
Innovation in the workplace cannot be successful without Artificial Intelligence!
Bold statement but let me tell you why. Over the years there have inherently been two major flaws with tools for innovation in the workplace. The first is how to find the right Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) to collaborate on ideas. The second, and the biggest bottleneck in the idea management process, is how to choose the right ideas.
Assigning time, money and resources is the next step to now turn these selected ideas into real business solutions. However, the responsibility and time-consuming exercise of fishing for the right ideas from a sea of hundreds (maybe even thousands) is the decision of the management teams who are already under incredible time pressures.
This results in a bottleneck in the idea management process and where the initiative often fails. I have experienced this situation many times both as a contributor and as a leader.
It is a similar story in knowing who the right subject matter experts are. Ideas shared by employees are in their rawest form and often need refinement before presenting to management for a decision.
Artificial Intelligence can help in both these situations by analysing all the big data captured, including all user interactions with each idea, and applying a machine learning algorithm. In laymen terms, this means over time it can learn who the successful contributors are for certain types of ideas and automatically recommend (or even assign) them to similar ideas in the future. Artificial Intelligence can also predict the best ideas for management to move forward with.
And the best news is that whilst more ideas shared causes an even bigger bottleneck in the idea management process when having to select ideas manually, it actually increases the accuracy when you allow Artificial Intelligence to do the same job.
Idea Generation Technique 7: Acknowledge the idea-makers and contributors
I ran a survey asking employees what type of rewards would encourage them to be active contributors to generate ideas. The results shocked me as I was expecting “money” to be the top response. Actually “recognition by one’s peers and leaders” was the overwhelming winner.
Therefore, including a way to recognise and reward successful contributors who generate ideas, is often a great way to organically influence other employees to get involved.
Idea Generation Technique 8: Avoid the dreaded idea black hole
Many employees interact with customers regularly and therefore they are a critical knowledge asset to solving a company’s business challenges. But for employees to continuously engage in ideation they need motivation. There are many ways to do this, but an employee can quickly become demotivated if ideas they have shared just sit there with no feedback.
So, avoid ideas falling into a black hole, and demotivating employees, by creating a feedback process on ideas. Appointing ambassadors is a great way to achieve this which leads me to the next idea generation technique.
Idea Generation Technique 9: Bring on the Ambassadors
Build it and they will come!
This is something I have heard many times when it comes to tools for innovation in the workplace. Unsurprisingly it is very rarely true. And even less true when it comes to employee suggestion systems in large enterprises.
The solution to this is to create an Ideation Ambassador role. The primary responsibility of this role is to drive awareness, encourage engagement and support groups within the organisation. This role should be an add-on to an existing role and shouldn’t be more than 5-10% of someone’s time. However, it is an essential role for organisations with an employee base typically over 1,000 people.
Idea Generation Technique 10: Make it fun!
Ideas flow best when the environment created to do so is enjoyable. I have seen some of the best innovations spawned when countries have hosted Innovation Days where employees come together and collaborate in a relaxed and fun way. So, don’t be afraid to get creative to encourage employees to engage in ideation.