6 Steps to Getting Executive Buy-In for a Crowdsourced Innovation Program

By Jeremy Brown | Crowdsourcing
December 6, 2016

Engaging the “crowd” at scale in your innovation initiative has been proven to fundamentally transform companies.

In fact, Gartner recently named crowdsourcing as the most effective independent discipline that CIOs can adopt to drive digital transformation.

There are plenty of examples that show this.

From vehicle manufacturer, Polaris, leveraging its employees’ creativity to out-innovate the likes of Harley Davidson, to the UNHCR changing the lives of millions of refugees through crowdsourcing ideas.

The advantages of crowdsourced innovation can’t be ignored.

But what’s the secret to creating and sustaining a successful innovation program? It starts with
getting executive buy-in.

The reality is not every company is fortunate enough to have a crowdsourced innovation program mandate come directly from their executive team. For individuals not in this situation, getting buy-in is a crucial step.

You can have all the enthusiasm in the world, but if your executive team doesn’t see the value of your innovation program and the challenges it can help to solve, the idea will stay just that…an idea.

In this article, we’ll help you put your best foot forward by walking through key steps to creating a plan that guarantees you will get that all-important executive buy-in.

Create a plan of attack

Pitching a crowdsourced innovation program to an executive team is a lot like pitching a startup to a venture capitalist.

You need a clear plan that conveys value and answers the major questions your executive team will likely have. In essence, you want to anticipate the questions they’ll ask and answer them in a well-thought out plan for them to digest. This only helps your chances of gaining their support.

Whether it’s a PowerPoint™, document, or something else entirely, your crowdsourced innovation program pitch should outline key items such as:

  • Why a crowdsourced innovation program matters for your company
  • The key benefits
  • The objectives you aim to accomplish based on company goals and pain points
  • Estimated resources needed to run and sustain the program (i.e. tools, staffing)
  • How success will be measured – and goals
  • Real-life case studies

Let’s go into each item in more detail.

Step 1: Start with why

As with anything new, in order for an executive to fully grasp and buy into investing in a crowdsourced innovation program, they need to understand why it’s important.

They need a clear understanding of how the program will solve company problems and impact the bottom line.

A good starting point in this process is explaining the power of crowds in moving the business forward faster.

Your employees, for example, each is a valuable resource that has his or her own level of industry expertise and customer interaction that can be tapped into. To uncover opportunities for new products, services, or improvements, it’s in the business’s best interest to harness this knowledge, not to mention the learning and boundary-spanning that helps keep the organization smart and aligned.

Simply stated, the company and its internal/external communities will reap more value from the relationship.

At the end of the day, the objective for any executive team is to grow the business. By explaining that through crowdsourcing, the company will accelerate the achievement of goals with lasting, effective solutions, you’re aligning the core purpose of the crowdsourced innovation program with their goals. You’re also enabling your most important communities to build more meaningful relationships with the company, which pays off in daily commitment and effort.

Explaining the “why” has a singular purpose: to paint a compelling picture that creates an “A-ha!” moment.

Step 2: Stress key benefits

Now that you have a clear and compelling “why,” what’s the next step? Outlining the key benefits.

There’s a set of benefits that are consistent across the board for any crowdsourced innovation program. They include:

  • Company-wide collaboration, learning and sharing (breaking down silos)
  • Increased employee engagement and retention
  • Larger supply of ideas for new products, services, markets and improvements
  • Innovation pipeline acceleration
  • Higher quality ideas due to stronger contributor diversity

Then there are benefits that are tailored to your business’s unique goals and needs. For example:

  • How do we find new ways to drive down the cost of materials needed to manufacture our tires by 10%?
  • What opportunities are there to streamline our processes across business units?
  • What adjacent markets make sense for our business to enter?
  • How can we leverage the product expertise and creativity of our 3,000 engineers across 5 countries?

Let’s dig into an example.

Imagine your company is focused on adding new products to its portfolio (the objective  – explained in more detail in step 3). If you were creating a plan to pitch a crowdsourced innovation program to your executive team, the key benefits you’d want to stress could include a larger supply of high-quality product ideas from employees, an increased idea pipeline, a more efficient process for bringing products to market, and company-wide collaboration/engagement.

All four benefits align perfectly with the company’s goal of driving new product development.

By mapping the key benefits back to company goals, you’re positioning your program as a way to solve problems in terms that resonate at an executive level.

Include this in your pitch:

  • Outline key benefits and explain how they map back to company goals and pain points

Step 3: State key objectives and strategy

What are the critical business objectives and how can crowdsourcing contribute to achieving them?

While your answers will depend on company needs, market dynamics, and a whole host of other factors, having at least one crowdsourcing objective and strategy to start is critical – they create clarity.

An easy way to approach objective setting is to reflect priorities the company has already set. In other words, target your ideation challenges on critical improvement areas (e.g. cost control, new revenue opportunities, increasing market share, new product adoption rates, reducing time to market) and set your crowdsourcing objectives accordingly.

Here are a few examples:

Let’s say the business is going through a down cycle in its industry and therefore retaining customers is crucial – a perfectly appropriate crowdsourcing objective. Or it could be that product introductions are failing at an unacceptable rate in which case crowdsourcing can help develop new product ideas with higher sticking power.

In other scenarios, engaging and retaining high performing employees could be an area of focus. This is a typical area in which crowdsourcing can make a difference by giving them the ability to share ideas that can help the company solve problems.

Once you have your objective set, your strategies around what questions you ask, how you communicate, how you motivate participation, and how you select and enrich ideas for implementation will align accordingly.

Through regular challenges, not only do you capture valuable ideas, but you provide a tool that enables long-term employee engagement.

Most importantly, employees see themselves as valuable contributors to the business’ bottom line.

Mission accomplished.

Include these items in your pitch:

  • Your program’s key objective aligned with company initiatives
  • How your program strategy supports the key objective

Step 4: List the resources needed to get up and running

How much investment will the program need to get up and running? What resources (budget, people, etc) are needed to support the program?

Questions about which resources you’ll need to create a successful innovation program will inevitably be asked during your pitch or soon after.

How do you answer these questions? The short answer is, it depends.

The resources you’ll need to run an innovation program will depend heavily on any tools you use, staffing requirements, and a host of other factors relating back to your objectives. If it’s too early for your company to invest in a large innovation team, for example, that may affect your selection of tools.

For example, Spigit customers can run an innovation program that engages tens of thousands of people with just one person due to the software’s automation, crowd science, and collaborative features. And it easily scales if they decide to expand their innovation teams.

Some innovation software solutions require large teams to manage out of the box, which is fine if your company is willing to invest in staffing upfront.

The point here is you need to be realistic about what’s needed in the short-term to get up and running. And what’s needed in the long-term to sustain the program.

Include these items in your pitch:

  • Options for innovation management software tools including comparison and differentiators
  • Estimated staff needed to maintain and scale the program
  • Estimated budget based on tools, staffing, and other resources

 

Recommended resource: The Buyer’s Guide to Innovation Management Software

 

Step 5: Include how success will be measured

Measuring the impact of your innovation program will depend on your company’s goals.

Here’s an example to illustrate this.

Let’s say your company’s objective is to increase employee engagement in an effort to stop churn, increase collaboration, and ultimately create a culture that attracts new talent.

If an innovation program is implemented, success can initially be measured based on the number of ideas submitted, or activities such as comments and votes. These measurements will give you a good indication of how engaged your workforce is in the early stages of the program.

However, as the program matures, the metrics you would look at to determine overall success must map back to the original objective – especially when you need to justify ongoing investment to your executive team. For this example, the question you would ask yourself is: did this program impact employee churn, collaboration, and help attract new talent? The more quantifiable you can get when determining success, the better.

Include this in your pitch:

  • How program success will be measured based on the goals of the company

Step 6: Share case studies

One of the most impactful things you can do to increase the odds of getting executive buy-in is to share case studies highlighting companies (preferably in your industry) who have developed successful innovation programs.

Not only does this create a fear of missing out for executive, especially if the companies are in your industry, but case studies act as social proof for the practicality of an innovation program and offer use cases.

It’s one thing to say you need to create an innovation program for X, Y, Z. It’s another thing entirely to show executives how other companies are producing results from their programs.

Tell them the story about how Pfizer, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, reduced its cost for clinical trials and expenditures by 60%.

Or tell them the story about how Cambia Health Solutions went from being a health insurer to a health solutions company that became a leading innovator in its industry – this is on top of generating over $170 million in contributed revenue and adding five new healthcare businesses to its portfolio all through crowdsourced innovation.

As the old saying goes, seeing is believing.

Include this in your pitch:

  • Industry specific case studies preferably of well-known companies if available

Conclusion

There you have it.

A blueprint that will help you create a plan that compels your executive team and gets them excited about launching an innovation program.

Ultimately, your job is to educate and inform. If they can see the vision and how it will help them accomplish the goals for the business, you stand a great chance of getting the go-ahead.

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