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Diamonds in the Rough: Finding the Hidden Gems in Your Stockpile of Ideas

When it comes to innovation in business, companies often amass a surplus of ideas from employees but don’t know how to recognize and foster the most viable ones. Avoid downstream roadblocks in your innovation pipeline with these guidelines for selecting your best ideas.

Innovation is a main driver of growth in your company, but without an efficient process, your idea program can become hopelessly clogged. Follow these simple steps to ensure your most promising ideas have a chance to shine.

Assemble the Right Team

You can’t do it alone. A critical resource for keeping your lines of innovation flowing efficiently will be an internal team designated to assess each idea for its viability. The team should include a mix of stakeholders, including employees from a cross-section of departments and seniority. Consider alternating or rotating participation to keep things fresh, and be sure to determine what the team will need in terms of resources, time, and guidance.

Ask the Important Questions

At the core of your innovation program is a key set of questions that the idea team will use to determine the viability of each idea. Evaluation criteria should be unique to your company, but include some variation of these questions when building your own standards:

  • Does the idea solve a problem for the customer, company, or community?
  • Will it contribute to our growth, even if indirectly through improved safety or efficiency?
  • Which business outcomes will be affected? How? 
  • What additional resources will be needed to execute the idea? Where will we get them?
  • What is a reasonable timeline and budget for testing and development?
  • Can we afford implementation? If not, how will we fund it?

Prioritize the Best Candidates

Consistent efforts by the team to filter new ideas through your own set of criteria will yield a cache of the most worthwhile ideas. The suggestions that are unmanageable, ineffective, or unaffordable will become obvious, while the ones that have the most promise will be revealed. Once the team gets the hang of the process, you can continuously enhance your program by adding more sophisticated grading systems or automated idea software.

THE FOUR C’S OF A BRILLIANT IDEA SYSTEM

Collaboration
Push the process outward, not upward, by allowing employees from all levels to not only generate ideas but also to take part in the vetting and selection process. Diversity throughout the innovation process will ensure your ideas have a chance to shine.

Creativity
There are myriad resources for implementing clever sourcing programs that will tap into your employee’s best ideas. Foster a creative culture that will allow the most innovative ideas to evolve naturally.

Consistency
Give program parameters without stifling creativity or fostering undue performance anxiety among participants. Choose a scale and frequency for your program that you can maintain and that makes sense for your company.

Character
If you ask employees to contribute to the growth of the company, you must then treat the ideas with respect. Process suggestions quickly and honor the input your employees offer by taking them seriously.

CASE STUDY: THREE INNOVATION PROGRAMS THAT SHINE

Ideas are everywhere! Learn how three companies operate employee-driven idea programs that have generated some of their best advancements.

Although internal idea programs should complement a company’s unique culture and processes, you can learn a lot from the successes of other businesses. Take a look at just a few examples of idea systems done right.

Airline Flushes Wasteful Spending

When British Airways was facing tough economic times and mounting pressure from environmentalists to cut emissions on its aircraft, it reached out to employees to help solve the specific problem of cutting fuel bills. Via an online suggestion portal, one employee had an unusual idea: descale the toilet pipes to reduce airplane weight. The result was a $900,000 reduction in fuel cost and satisfied environmental groups.

3M Finds an Idea that Sticks

Many already know the story of how a failed invention was cleverly repurposed by 3M scientist Art Fry to develop the Post-It Note. What some don’t know is that this eureka moment happened during Fry’s “15 Percent Time,” a company innovation program that allows employees to use up to 15% of their work day to develop and test their own ideas. Google has since adopted a similar program allowing employees 20% of their work day to dream big.

Software Employees Invest in Each Other

Rhode Island-based Rite-Solutions has developed hundreds of lucrative ideas through a unique innovation program that allows employees to invest in good suggestions. In addition to the encouragement to post ideas on an internal website, each employee is given $10,000 virtual currency for the opportunity to “invest” in others’ ideas and volunteer on the project team. The projects that garner enough support are approved and the team shares in its actual profits.

Learn how to structure your innovation program and avoid six critical mistakes.

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