As life returns to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems the way many of us work has been forever changed. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, “most workers who say their job responsibilities can mainly be done from home say that, before the pandemic, they rarely or never teleworked.1” Today, 71% of those of workers say they are doing their job from home all or most of the time. Additionally, this past June, more than 26% of Fortune 500 CEOs said at least 90% of their workforce will never return to their pre-pandemic workplace.2
This is unprecedented. From maintaining a cohesive corporate culture to monitoring productivity, having a workforce that is all or mostly remote also presents unique challenges. Perhaps the greatest is generating ideas. There are many ways to approach innovation, but we at Avant Healthcare believe crowdsourcing innovation from all levels of a company using a digital platform is the best. Below I will discuss the relative merits of internal innovation crowdsourcing as well as how Avant Healthcare recently used the approach for one of our clients.
Many firms choose external innovation consultancies to generate fresh, innovative ideas. On the face of it, this seems like a good approach. By going outside the organization, the likelihood of getting a fresh perspective without any organizational baggage is great. However, this may also mean that the ideas you receive are impractical, requiring resources the company does not have or stir up intellectual property issues further down the line.3 By keeping the focus internal, you can at best expect practical ideas in continuity with the company’s previous offerings that meet today’s challenges.
Keeping your innovation efforts internal is a crucial first step, but you also need to keep the “crowd” in “crowdsourcing” by seeking ideas at all levels of the company—from the frontline to the C-suite. There are many benefits to this approach. The MIT Sloan School of Management conducted a study3 on developing innovation through internal crowdsourcing and they found that internal crowdsourcing “allows employees to interact dynamically with coworkers in other locations, propose new ideas, and suggest new directions to management. Because many large companies have pockets of expertise and knowledge scattered across different locations, we have found that harnessing the cognitive diversity within organizations can open up rich new sources of innovation. Internal crowdsourcing is a particularly effective way for companies to engage younger employees and people working on the front lines.”
5 Steps to Successful Internal Innovation Crowdsourcing
The MIT study3 outlines several things to keep in mind when internally crowdsourcing innovation at your firm, but we’ve distilled it into five steps.
- Stay focused—While it’s tempting to try to crowdsource improvements to all aspects of your organization, you need to ensure employees don’t become fatigued, so refrain from overusing crowdsourcing. Additionally, identify your target. What problem are you trying to solve? To get actionable insights you’ll actually use, you need to define exactly what you need your employees to be thinking about.
- Give people time—Everybody’s busy. All. The. Time. So you need to create a plan that will give employees plenty of time to get their thoughts together. You’ll also want to send out periodic reminders because your best people are usually your busiest and you need their contributions. Overall, it’s crucial to set up your innovation campaign in such a way that it's as easy as possible for the best and brightest to put their ideas forward.
- Share the love—Don’t let experts within the company intimidate (most likely unintentionally) the rest of the participants. While we should never discourage creative and innovation experts from putting their best ideas forward, it’s important that individuals across the company understand the value of their input. The best way to ensure this is to allow for anonymous participation.
- Choose software that ensures collaboration and that the best ideas don’t sink to the bottom—By setting parameters in the software platform used to facilitate the crowdsourcing, you can more easily flag good ideas and make sure they don’t get lost in the glut of submissions. Additionally, it’s important to choose software that facilitates knowledge-sharing, allowing multiple people to provide input and collaborate on a single idea.
- Follow through when all is said and done—after participating in a crowdsourcing event, participants will want to know: what idea was selected and why? Will participants be asked to develop their ideas further? It’s crucial these things are communicated to participants, perhaps in a timely email or through the crowdsourcing platform (ideally, both). This will communicate to participants the value of their contributions and perhaps yield even more ideas for the next internal crowdsourcing initiative.
A Client Case Study
As the pandemic continued in early 2021, we wanted to come to our client with a host of new ideas to tackle what we saw was quickly becoming a new normal—the normalization of virtual offerings and decreased access of the sales force to physicians. We called the initiative “Imagine Possibility” and we wanted to help our client find the next breakthrough in medical education. Using the software platform BrightIdea, over 80 people across our organization, from strategy, medical, creative, and digital teams, submitted ideas. 37 proposals were sourced over eight days and 7 big ideas were gleaned for our core team for client consideration. The ideas spanned the gamut—from Tik-Tok for HCPs, exploration of HCP burnout, to gamification and artificial intelligence. It was an immense success and our client was delighted.
With the pandemic winding down, many workplaces are staying remote or hybrid. Whether to capitalize on talent hundreds or thousands of miles away or to offer expanded flexibility, many workplaces are telling workers to stay home, if they’d like to. The challenge this presents to idea generation is immense. We believe that using a software platform (such as BrightIdea) to internally crowdsource innovation is the future. By engaging workers at all levels, and at their convenience, you can unleash the incredible innovation potential of your company.