Over the years, the label “innovation” has been assigned more or less at random to the R&D, Marketing, HR, or Quality departments, without being subject to any real centralised or organised governance. Often described as “strategic”, it frequently then became dealt with as a secondary issue in relation to more operational objectives which are perhaps less strategic but more obviously practical to employees. This is something of a paradox when we consider that:
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination encircles the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.
Faced with stiffening competition in our economic environment and the growing uncertainty caused by the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis, is it helpful to reiterate how it is vital for companies to actively innovate even more to meet the challenges of the future now, rather than to passively suffer those challenges tomorrow? To this end, participative innovation needs to become widespread in organisations by making better use of governance, tried-and-tested methodologies, and appropriate systems. The objective is to be more proactive in aligning strategy with functional staff’s expectations and customers’ requirements. This will necessarily include greater collective intelligence and therefore the establishment of a regular and durable participative innovation process.
Some companies show a certain reluctance to believe in participative innovation because deep down, they wonder about their employees’ capacity to generate (good) ideas.
This will not be the case, quite the opposite in fact. There is no business where there will be no ideas generated. As Einstein pointed out, employees’ imagination is limitless and astonishing. On the other hand, some companies do still lack the climate of trust that is needed if employees are to feel that management listens to them, making sharing their ideas a worthwhile exercise.
While the percentage can vary from business to business, a successful participative innovation process can garner the involvement of up to 70% of staff:
But there is still plenty to work with to generate good ideas. Here, then, are four tips to persuade your senior management to have faith in the potential value creation brought about by such a process.
The first benefit of participative innovation is that it relates to people, and particularly the idea of staff involvement. Giving employees the chance to speak freely implicitly acknowledges that they have skills and expertise. They become involved in the transformation of the business, aware of the role to be played and value they provide, and this also strengthens cohesion. Participative innovation thus quickly once again makes people the strategy focus. Which is good for morale, and also for productivity.
A continuous stream of good ideas collected from employees working “in the field” undeniably brings many benefits, which is also in line with the continuous improvement process. All organisations that have implemented a participative innovation process report savings and/or financial benefits. This is the case with Air France, for example, where one idea submitted led to changes in aircraft engine maintenance procedures, with the manufacturers’ agreement, delivering savings of more than €2m.
This race for innovation, made necessary by the demands of the market, and which disrupts business models, can no longer reasonably be the exclusive domain of one department to the exclusion of all others. Innovation affects all aspects of an organisation - processes, marketing, products, services, and so on.
Participative innovation therefore serves to spread this “pro-change” mindset across all staff, which directly supports transformation projects. Such projects then become larger in scale, and the business can undertake a more deep-rooted transformation, including operating as an “extended enterprise”, where all internal and external stakeholders seek greater value creation through collaborating at different levels.
Putting people back at the heart of the business and communicating effectively about successful initiatives gives any company a more positive, more dynamic image, both with its employees and with customers and partners, and this applies regardless of the organisations’ size. In this way, co-creation and the constant search for solutions to problems become mainstays of its culture. This is for example, the case shown by Safran, which managed to roll out its progress plans worldwide, successfully transforming the group in so doing.
Persuading senior management is one thing, but ensuring the participative innovation process works properly over the long term to ensure these four benefits are secured is another. It is consequently crucial that it uses an ideas management system which obviously needs to be able to collect all ideas into one complete reference system, where they can be assessed and selected, which is essential, and then also monitored if chosen for implementation, so that they become impactful initiatives driving progress and change.
What are the key points in giving the process the right resources? While many possible solutions exist, those that combine all the necessary key success factors are rare: