By: Hutch Carpenter | September 23, 2010
I recently sat in the kick-off meeting of one of the biggest roll outs of Spigit’s social innovation platform. As we started exploring goals and needs of different working groups, one of the group leads started talking about an issue that comes up very frequently: lack of interest/buy-in from middle management. As I listened to his experiences, it occurred to me that we spend a lot of time talking about what motivates the “crowd” but seldom discuss how to best involve other parts of the social innovation ecosystem and build trust within the ecosystem for effective collaboration.
For a social innovation effort to be successful, it must be engineered to build trust among key stakeholders (depicted in the figure below). The key to building trust is to prove that the system “works” and mitigate fears (even though some times they are either irrational or selfish). Anyone starting a purpose-built community must conduct stakeholder analysis and design technical and social elements of the system accordingly. Once you establish trust, you can build upon it by offering appropriate incentives for meaningful participation. Since the topic of incentives has already gained a lot of attention, this blog post mainly focuses on strategies to allay stakeholder fears and creating proof points that demonstrate that social innovation works.
We almost always work with a “Champion” in the client organization in the beginning of a Spigit deployment. The champion is passionate about making social innovation work in his or her organization and in general NOT a sponsor with the budget or the authority to implement selected ideas. In most cases, the champion is really a team of people responsible for bottom-up innovation. The champion’s goal is to successfully deploy innovation platform that provides real value to all other stakeholders. Her fear off course is the possibility of conducting a failed experiment that generates little traction from the target community and does not produce results expected by the business leadership. The needs and fears of the champion are really about addressing the same for all other stakeholders and satisfying them requires implementing approaches described in the rest of this blog post.Upper Management
When it comes to senior leadership, there are three important concerns that need to be addressed: IP and licensing issues, leakage of confidential information and the risk of allowing participating employees/customers to air dirty laundry in public. All of these concerns are valid but it is important to recognize situations where the benefits outweigh the risks and prove it to the leadership. The biggest proof point is increasing number of companies, both large and small, that have engaged in collaborative innovation both inside and outside organizational boundaries. Companies like P&G (Connect + Develop), Shell (Game Changer) have started open innovation programs that invite ideas from public at large. They have successfully co-created products in a semi-open (collaborative aspect is missing from these sites) environment. Customer feedback and suggestion sites maintained by Dell and Starbucks have demonstrated the benefits of social innovation (albeit at an incremental level).
To address confidentiality and information leakage possibilities, there needs to be clear strategy both at the technology level and community governance policies. At the technology level, the social innovation platform must be proven in terms of network, storage, and application level security. The governance policies must be encoded in the form of information monitoring and access control rules protecting sensitive information. The concern about negative input can be addressed by recognizing that if users don’t do it on the designated site, they will do it some place else (which is much harder to monitor and control). It also helps to convey to the community members that being able to share information is a privilege (e.g. Facebook makes this clear to their employees when they share information in an open forum) and explaining the rule of proper conduct.
To prove the benefits of social innovation, it crucial to understand how the top leadership views innovation. My personal viewpoint is that innovation is any change that makes a difference in your lives. Most leaders however think “game changing” when they hear the word “innovation”. In my experience, focusing purely on game changing innovation is often frustrating since these ideas are very hard to come by, take relatively longer time for evaluation and years to implement. The best practice is to allow multi-level innovation efforts to co-exist and set expectations matching the degree of abstraction in each case. In any event, the champion should focus on the following to build trust among senior leadership:
Middle management (MM) is mainly responsible for execution of the policies set by the top level leadership and therefore is far more interested in efficiently running day-to-day operations of the organization. This puts them inherently at odds with innovation, especially breakthrough innovation. In many organizations, it is far easier for MM to take no action than engage in something novel that may subsequently fail. In general I have seen three things that MM is scared of: 1. Destabilizing existing processes by introducing a change 2. Loss of control over business operations 3. Loss of productivity due to employees spending time on non-essential work (i.e. innovation).
Given MM’s focus on managing the daily grind, it is clearly important to frame innovation efforts around incremental improvements such as process efficiencies, cost cutting measures, etc. Selecting a well defined problem with a high likelihood of finding an answer within a short time span will go a long way towards getting MM interested and bought into the new paradigm. Such an effort can be accompanied by a number of strategies that will increase MM involvement and trust:
Traditionally this class of employees bore the sole responsibility for all innovation in large organizations, especially knowledge intensive sectors like pharmaceutical and technology. Broadening the scope of innovation to include rank & file employees in the organization obviously poses a threat to this hierarchy. As a result R&D stakeholders are fearful of losing control (from the technical standpoint) and authority to direct innovation activities. They are concerned with preserving confidentiality of intellectual property and dilution of decision making responsibilities in areas that require deep domain knowledge and expertise. Senior R&D technologists are also reluctant to participate in a democratic process and spend time in “marketing” their idea to the masses.
R&D stakeholders have a legitimate concern when it comes to innovations that do require technical depth and experience. For example, I was involved in a prediction market exercise conducted at a pharmaceutical company focused around FDA approvals, efficacy of certain molecules, etc. Clearly, expressing opinions about such matters or innovating at that level requires proper training, education, and experience in pharama. Some the concerns may not have as much merit, e.g., getting a consumer focused idea evaluated from a diverse set of users in terms of its usability, value, implementation difficulties is clearly valuable. Some of the strategies to gain trust of R&D stakeholders are:
The only way to gain trust of “The Crowd” is to treat them the same way Southwest Airlines handles their customer complaints: provide a constructive response and close the loop for each idea posted on the community site. This does not mean that each person must be personally contacted by the team managing social innovation. It simply means that the ideators must clearly understand the decision making process that follows his/her post and the rationale behind selection or rejection of the idea.
In general I would suggest following this simple recipe: document the business process behind innovation life-cycle, execute the process as documented, and provide closure by telling them periodically (or at the end in case of a time-bound ideation campaign) about the end results. A well designed innovation platform like Spigit will decentralize and automate the task of providing individual feedback to the ideator. Augment this process by periodically publishing key metrics related to ideas (e.g. total ideas received, under implementation, innovations that began their life on the system, etc.) and participants (highly reputed members, successful innovators, implementation teams, etc.).Padmanabh Dabke Co-Founder & CTO Spigit, Inc.