How to Run a Successful Innovation Challenge

by Brennan McEachran

bigstock-Business-Challenge-A-busines-32101016Nothing is more intriguing, inspiring, and engaging than a good old-fashioned challenge.

Whether you want to build a culture of innovation, reach employees in a meaningful way, or search for immediate ideas to solve pressing problems, an innovation challenge may be the answer.

What Is an Innovation Challenge?
An innovation challenge is an effective way to inject some energy into the idea creation of your company. It can be easily executed by using an internal communication platform that every employee has access to, such as the company Intranet, an idea software program, or email.

As opposed to the normal “continuous innovation” strategy that most organizations have in place, a challenge is different for three reasons:

  1. Time Restrictions: Continuous innovation programs are designed to be ongoing and to organically generate value through standard processes. In an innovation challenge, however, employees have a finite amount of time in which they are allowed to submit ideas (i.e. an employee has only four weeks to engage and contribute to idea-generating conversations).
  2. Specific and Focused: Continuous innovation programs allow for a wide scope of ideas to come through the idea funnel with the goal of the organization being to capture the handful of value-driving ideas from the mountain of others they receive. The innovation challenge has a very narrow scope, focusing on very specific topics that the employees will have insight on (i.e. how to improve efficiency of the customer review process).
  3. Tied to Resources: Just as innovation challenges are narrow and specific in their focus, the resources are also designated beforehand and are then used to achieve the organization’s objectives. One example is that an innovation challenge may be run specifically for only one team that is working on a project plan that will have an impact on the company.

Why Run an Innovation Challenge?
Gamification not only adds some enthusiasm and immediate engagement, but it’s also an effective way to collect timely ideas on a specific priority that your company may have.

Some other reasons to run a challenge are:

  • You need insights to solve a current problem
  • You want to jump-start a particular effort in your organization
  • You want to align everyone to a particular strategic objective

What Are the Key Elements for Success?
The objective of any type of innovation is to create value for your organization. When running an innovation challenge, there are a few key things to keep in mind in order for it to be successful:

  • Align the focus to an organizational priority: The best challenges are those where senior leadership is engaged and is eager to see the best ideas.
  • Explicitly state the challenge question: If what you seek are specific ideas, then employees need guidance on what type of insights you are looking for. Ask a specific question and you will receive a specific solution.
  • Spread the word: Employees need to know about the challenge and be reminded in order to be fully engaged. Send emails, notices, or recruit a few “key players” to be responsible for getting the word out in order to encourage participation.
  • Assign resources to implement top ideas: Employees are taking extra time out of their day to help you solve a problem. Make sure that you have the appropriate resources assigned in order to implement these top ideas so that you will be able to actually do something with these top ideas when they are received.

Employees work the frontlines every day and are most familiar with problems affecting inefficiencies. Innovation challenges allow you to engage them in a meaningful way to zero-in on specific issues which, in many cases, may be resolved with simple, budget-friendly fixes that can be implemented quickly.

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Brennan McEachranBrennan McEachran is CEO, Co-Founder at SoapBox, an Innovation Management company that enables organizations to capture, manage, and execute new ideas by connecting employees with each other and leaders using intelligent and intuitive technology. Brennan is passionate about creating a high-performance workforce, believing that employees at every level should have the opportunity to shape the future of their organizations. He also contributes to #belikeastartup.

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