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2 Mois : De Mai 2019 à Juil 2019
By Henry Williams
Many companies rely on their senior executives and research-and-development teams to drive decisions around innovation. But now, some organizations are trying a different approach: They are giving rank-and-file employees a bigger say in which projects the companies pursue.
Under the typical R&D model, a team of designers is responsible for developing new products and processes, or improving existing ones. Senior staff may provide direction, but individual employees are often left out of the process -- a situation that some say doesn't always deliver the best results.
"Companies began to realize that the R&D department might not be the best predictor of what is a good idea," says Ann Majchrzak, a chaired professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.
So some companies are experimenting with internal crowdsourcing, which is modeled after websites like Kickstarter, where inventors and artists pitch their creative projects in the hopes people will fund them. With internal crowdsourcing, employees get to pitch their ideas to managers and colleagues -- and collectively decide which projects the company should pursue. Some organizations accomplish this by giving employees virtual money to "invest" in the projects they think are worthy. The projects that attract the most interest are then funded with real money.
The goal is to tap into the pool of unused knowledge from internal innovators, whose ideas can get lost or diluted during the traditional product-development process.
"I have a limited set of knowledge, and yet there are 150 other people in the group that aren't being asked [the] questions," says Adam Siegel, the co-founder and chief executive of Cultivate Labs, a Chicago-based company that offers a platform to facilitate internal crowdsourcing. Those employees, he says, may have an innovative idea, which crowdsourcing can help ferret out.
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, an Ontario, Canada-based nuclear science and technology organization, is among those experimenting with crowdsourcing.
"We wanted a simple way to inspire people" and engage with them about their ideas, says Dana Hewit, CNL's chief R&D operations officer. CNL worked with Cultivate Labs last year to set up a platform through which employees could submit ideas. Each project was limited to a request of $100,000 in funding. Within three weeks, CNL received 38 proposals.
The projects included proposed solutions to technical problems, inventions and workflow improvements. One idea was to create a 3-minute "elevator pitch" for researchers who struggle to describe their work to nontechnical audiences. The project was named "3-minutes to impact" -- dry humor for a nuclear-research organization.
Once the ideas were vetted, CNL sought input from employees across the company.
It gave each eligible staff member $5,000 in virtual money to "invest" in the projects they though were most worthy. The projects that received the most bids and met their investment targets were allocated a real budget and developed further. Some at CNL were initially skeptical of the program, Ms. Hewit says, but when the winning projects were actually funded it generated enthusiasm for this year's program.
"Twenty of [last year's projects] were fully funded," she says, including the "3-minutes to impact" pitch." CNL just launched the seed for this year, she says, and received 25 to 30 ideas by the fourth day.
Some companies, such as U.K.-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, are using internal crowdsourcing to develop small projects, while keeping their main R&D process intact.
"It's good to do both," says Cristina Duran, vice president of transformation in AstraZeneca's R&D department, adding that crowdsourcing helps engage people within the organization on change.
AstraZeneca recently solicited ideas from employees around themes such as design and planning for studies, regulatory processes and patient-safety systems. It received 150 ideas -- eight of which got the lion's share of support from staff across the company.
It was easy to see the projects employees were enthusiastic about, Ms. Duran says. One idea centered on a very mundane but time-consuming problem -- the distribution of safety letters to drug-trial participants. The company sends 70,000 such letters a year and needs to get acknowledgments from recipients for every single one. The project digitized the process, helping to create an automated audit trail.
"It's quite simple to automate," says Ms. Duran. "But it was something that hadn't come up."
Small ideas are what the Cultivate Labs platform is all about, says Mr. Siegel. "There are going to be nuggets that you're going to find, and you're going to do it inexpensively."
Encouraging grass-roots innovation also can help companies attract and retain talent. So say officials at Armonk, N.Y.-based International Business Machines Corp., which built a crowdfunding platform known as ifundIT that it uses internally and offers to clients, as well.
There is a direct correlation between employee engagement and business performance, says Andi Britt, who leads IBM's talent and engagement practice for Europe.
"Engagement is critical for us, not just in terms of serving clients, but in terms of attracting and retaining talent," says Mr. Britt. "[It] means tapping into the collective intelligence of our employees globally, helping them shape the future of our organization."
Mr. Williams is an editor for The Wall Street Journal in New York. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 10, 2019 22:25 ET (02:25 GMT)
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