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Recognition: The key to encouraging employees to participative innovation

Building a recognition program to foster innovation

When it comes to initiating a participative innovation program in your company, the first fear is that employees won’t play along. Even if innovation challenges or calls for ideas are flourishing in more and more organizations, it’s legitimate to ask the following questions: Will employees have ideas? Will they be willing to share them? Will their ideas be good ones? What if their ideas are bad? How can we make the most of their ideas? Should there be rewards for the best ideas? Do the rewards have to be monetary?

If you’re asking yourself all these questions, good news! You’re in the right place, and on the right path, to take innovation in your company to the next level! Take advantage of this article to explore the solutions available to you to reward your employees’ ideas, and thus evolve your approach to innovation within your organization.

Prerequisites for participative innovation

As we mentioned in our article on the Idea Management System, everyone involved in a company has ideas, especially its employees. However, employees are under no obligation to share their ideas! As an organization, you can’t contractually oblige an employee to share his or her ideas.

On the other hand, an organization can create the right conditions for its employees to "play the game" and share their ideas. Here are the prerequisites that can have a significant impact:

  • Values: Are innovation, progress, commitment to quality, customer and employee experience fundamental principles that guide actions and decisions?
  • Behaviors: Is the attitude to risk-taking, experimentation and conflict positive and benevolent?
  • Rituals: Do recurring events help to promote these values and behaviors?
  • Leadership: Are managers involved and exemplary?
Before, we hired people to produce. Today, we hire people to produce and, above all, to improve what already exists.
Recent exchange with a manufacturer on its recruitment policy

Once these prerequisites have been met, the next step is to set up an organization and a process to ensure that collective innovation doesn’t stop at collecting ideas. Ideas need to be heard, captured, enriched, analyzed, implemented, and valorized in all transparency.

First and foremost, employees want to feel they are being listened to, and to see their ideas put into practice, as these ideas will often help to remove a pebble, more or less large, from their shoes or those of their customers.

Recognition: the best reward in participative innovation

Once the “groundwork” and the process are implemented, you have several options for building your recognition program. The employee recognition (or reward) program is an additional lever for increasing motivation and valorizing talents and their ideas.

This recognition program can take various forms:

  • Bonuses based on individual and/or collective performance,
  • Prizes giving,
  • Gifts or vouchers,
  • Events participation (trade shows, company visits),
  • Trainings to enable employees to develop their skills and progress within the company,
  • Promotions following the identification of specific skills (creativity, animation, project management, etc.),
  • Flexible working hours for project work.

Monetary recognition: a good idea or a bad one?

Benefits and risks of a monitary reward policy

Monetary reward can be expected to boost collaborative innovation in a company, as it will lead to increased employee motivation. The thought of receiving a financial reward can stimulate productivity, work commitment and increased effort to achieve goals.

However, there are certain risks involved in implementing a monetary reward policy:

  1. The approach can sometimes be considered subjective in determining the value of the bonus,
  2. Differences in gratification between two ideas are not always easy to justify,
  3. The origin of the idea may also call into question the legitimacy of a reward (an idea may be the result of a good practice, an evolution of an existing idea, or simply the result of the person’s profession),
  4. It’s incredibly complex to manage all the exceptions and turns the process into a gas factory,
  5. Once it’s been implemented, it’s hard to go back as this bonus is considered a social achievement,
  6. In lean times, it can be tempting to cut the bonus budget, jeopardizing the program at a time when the organization needs fresh ideas and committed employees,
  7. Decentralized allocation of bonuses (by managers, for example) can lead to significant discrepancies from one manager to another.

Reward strategy: our recommendations

Monetary rewards are therefore a last resort if they are absolutely essential to the company’s policy and culture.

Whenever possible, we recommend a collective reward based on the overall performance of the system. This recognizes the strength of the collective and avoids the micro-management of idea-based rewards.

If this individual and/or collective monetary reward is introduced, it will have to comply with totally transparent eligibility criteria to avoid arbitrary preferences without becoming too complex. These criteria include:

  • Measurable impact on the company,
  • Originality and novelty,
  • Alignment with corporate objectives,
  • Feasibility,
  • Level of employee commitment.

As far as possible, a maximum amount will be set for bonuses.

If you’d like to go further, find out how the ONF (French National Forestry Office) successfully revitalized its second innovation challenge by rethinking its process and using the IDhall tool.

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