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Managing and accelerating participative innovation in your company

Participative innovation serving the business

The birth and the growth of a business are events that often inspire innovative ideas from employees. These ideas are any company’s most valuable resource and they can come from anywhere, hence the description of “participative innovation”.

From the ideas collected, either in a regular way using an Ideas Management System, or more sporadically as it is the case with idea campaigns, the business will gradually build up a database of opportunities for transformation and progress; these future ground-breaking innovations and improvements represent an enormous potential that is often untapped.

To prevent this situation, the business needs to be able to capture, share and manage employees’ ideas, to avoid ideas being born and then merely fading away, meaning problems endure and opportunities are not grasped.

The following describes all the best practices for successful participative innovation.

What do we mean by participative innovation?

The term “participative innovation” arose because historically a business targeted the highest possible level of participation, at any price, even if that meant sacrificing quality for quantity.

While the term has become firmly established to describe the process, the fact remains it is more akin to collaborative innovation, whereby employees submit their ideas which then trigger a management and collaboration process within the company. Ideas generated do, of course, need to be analysed, improved, assessed and then implemented.

Unfortunately, organisations are often facing one issue that hampers, or even purely and simply blocks, a successful participative innovation process, and that issue is uncertainty. Such processes cannot deal with uncertainty:

  • [Executives] Will they have ideas and will they be any good?
  • [Employees] What do they expect from me? Will I be judged on the basis of my ideas?
  • [Managers] What ideas will be submitted, how many, and what will the workload be? Is this part of my objectives?
  • [Innovation manager] Will I be helping the business to innovate, and how long will it take?

Not enough ideas?

This is a fear that those reluctant to adopt the participative innovation model may have, if they lack confidence in employees’ capacity for innovation. In fact, everyone has ideas, and businesses are crammed with willing people with an abundance of creative ideas, but firms are not always well organised or prepared enough to encourage all employees to take part in the process.

To obtain ideas ripe for development, a certain mindset needs to be instilled in staff at all levels of the organisation. Most importantly, they should be sufficiently motivated and reassured meaning employees trust the system and are happy to contribute.

Or, conversely, too many ideas?

One of the main pitfalls when starting a participative innovation process is opening up too wide an area of scope, and so being poorly prepared to handle the influx of ideas generated. Ideas have to be processed: they have to be collected, brought to the attention of the appropriate people, studied and analysed to determine whether they are worth implementing. To say nothing of the discussion back and forth between stakeholders, including the manager in charge of innovation, the steering committee, senior management, and so on. Inadequate resources guarantee failure.

Besides collecting useful raw materials (good ideas), the business must ensure that the process is not limited to compiling ideas and then ignoring them. Ideas must deliver results. But reaching this point is not always a simple matter.

Ideas without results

Ideas, everyone has them - your staff, your competitors, your customers, your suppliers. But not everyone can see them through, or wants to take the risk of doing so. Any participative innovation process has just one objective, to convert ideas into tangible results, whether improving a process or method, saving time, reducing costs, or building a new product or service.

The difficulty is that the main focus is on day-to-day operations and there is a lack of time, resources and money to be spent on such processes.

But while innovation remains a “good intention” and not a “participative” mindset within the business and while collaboration is not second nature for employees, ideas will remain just that: ideas. Excellent they may be, but only ideas.

Knowing how to avoid these pitfalls will ensure the success of your participative innovative process and, importantly, the implementation of effective ideas that create value for the business.

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Participative innovation: the four key success factors

These four key points are responses to the main pitfalls encountered:

  • Management involvement to instil energy and motivation, by giving staff appropriate resources.
  • Ideas must serve tangible objectives, and so “internal customers” are required.
  • A properly organised process that will systematically collect ideas suggested and deal with them fairly to prevent any gems being overlooked.
  • A participative innovation management system is vital to support the process.

Management commitment

It is crucial that senior management supports the objectives of the process, and set out its area(s) of scope. This could mean participative innovation to deal with irritants, or to improve quality of life in the workplace generally, or to disrupt the market with new products or services, or participative innovation to serve intrapreneurship, and so on.

The next step is to decide on the rules that apply to each of the areas of scope. Senior management is then to delegate resources and methods to the innovation manager, and the processing of ideas to operational managers, so as to obtain results relevant to the identified objectives.

Who is a participative innovation process for, and why?

The process cannot operate by mere decree, and it is important it is not driven by one individual, even if that individual is the participative innovation process manager.

This aspect is essential if the process is to have a long-term future. The process manager is in charge of methods and resources. On the other hand, the process manager cannot be responsible for ideas; they must be managed directly by the operational staff who will benefit from the idea(s), these staff being the “internal customers” within the business. Without internal customers, ideas have little chance of producing tangible results.

The innovation manager will therefore need to identify people in the company who are “idea seekers” and who want to leverage human capital and collective intelligence to meet their needs for improvement, transformation and/or innovation. These beneficiaries of ideas must very clearly express the nature of the ideas they expect and the resources they have at their disposal to implement them. “Internal customers” may equate to all the managers under a continuous improvement process, the head of the supply chain to optimise logistics, product managers to improve products or services, the HR Department to improve quality of life in the workplace, etc.

An innovation manager with no internal customers is a bit like a conductor with no orchestra - he is going to struggle to implement innovation within the company meaningfully, certainly over the longer term.

Organise participative innovation as a process

For ideas to culminate in results that are both tangible and significant, in line with the company’s strategy and resources, the company needs to adopt a systematic method, organised as a process, to manage its participative innovation.

This can be achieved by means of an effective system accessible to all staff in the form of an innovation management platform, and by following a few best practices.

It is advisable to build a well-structured and transparent process making it possible to:

  • Generate, capture, share and organise ideas on the various areas of scope chosen, in order to build a database of opportunities and generate value from the company’s human capital.
  • Determine which are the bodies (internal customers) willing and able to commit the resources necessary to implement ideas.
  • Set the process in motion, including monitoring each idea until it comes to fruition.

Is a collaborative platform an essential part of participative innovation?

Participative innovation must give employees the chance to speak freely if it is to be successful. It is therefore essential to enable them to submit ideas easily, in a straightforward way. If your business has multiple sites or working languages, this requires a degree of organisation.

Best practice entails setting up a participative innovation system which will be focused on end users, with straightforward submission of ideas, from anywhere, at any time, and using any device. Submitting ideas should not be complicated, otherwise a future gem of an idea that could have transformed the business might be missed.

As we have seen, the best type of system to manage the participative innovation process is a collaborative platform. This is because it will support organisation in the form of a process and simplify each step involved.

However, in addition to that, it will ensure and expand the potential of the process:

  • Ideas submitted by anyone at any time;
  • Voting, comments and additions by any stakeholder;
  • Recognition of contributors;
  • Ideas quickly collected and processed;
  • Built-in decision support system;
  • End-to-end tracking of implementation, etc.

Such a system, if well chosen, will strengthen the participative innovation process by permitting all staff (senior management, innovation managers, operational managers and other employees) to spend their time and energy wisely on pushing the business upwards.

If you wish to find out how to create an effective innovative culture in your business, please download our ebook:

Innovation culture: the long-awaited guide to success!