Are the benefits of employee crowdsourcing in large organizations a myth, or is crowdsourcing a sound strategy to invest in? Does crowdsourcing for ideas to improve one’s business lead to employee engagement, or is it a waste of time?
Based on the results demonstrated at Rogers and TELUS – two of the largest telecom operators in Canada – it appears clear that when crowdsourcing is implemented thoughtfully, employee engagement rises, and in turn, customers are better served.
- At Rogers, when the front-line team of 15,000 field technicians were invited to participate in quarterly crowdsourcing for ideas to improve customer experience, the annual engagement scores for the front-line team increased four points year-over-year versus the rest of the organization, where they only increased one point year-over-year.
- In the case of TELUS, in 2015, management professionals were invited to participate in an annual crowdsourcing program for open innovation. Participants engaged by taking 7,000 hours of innovation skills training, which resulted in at least one new service being launched to market within 18 months of the idea’s inception.
Few would argue that having scarce and homogeneous ideas are a recipe for success in any business. Consider that the best companies in the world are the ones that are front-runners in evolution and adaptation.
The most cost-effective and fastest method to tap into diverse and varied ideas is to listen to one’s own employee base. Employees serve customers and understand the benefits and limitations of the business in an intimate, hands-on manner. Companies need to engage their employees by encouraging their opinions, voices and ideas. This is something I encourage in the courses I teach for Ryerson’s Master of Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MEIE).
Furthermore, in my own career, I have designed and run over 30 employee crowdsourcing programs – ranging from 300 to 30,000 participants – that have resulted in employee “up-skilling,” profit growth, market launchers, employee engagement, and culture change. In this blog post, I’ll share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way that will support you in cultivating a thoughtful crowdsourcing effort at your own organization.
Make Crowdsourcing a Program and Not a Competition
Don’t start by asking your employees to simply submit ideas into a box and pick the best one. Rather, foster an environment of dialogue with employees.
To illustrate, let’s look at another example from Rogers. In 2017, we set up a 12-week innovation program for 350 retail store managers. Our goals were to identify top talent, promote collaboration, drive engagement, enhance management visibility, supplement coaching, and improve career development planning. We discovered that crowdsourcing was the best medium to meet these goals.
The program provided participants with training, coaching, and a structured path to go from an idea in bullet form to a well-thought-out business plan presented to a retail executive. As a result, the top team’s idea was implemented with less than $30,000 in investment and resulted in over $500,000 profit to the company within 12 months of implementation. More importantly, over 300 people took training sessions to improve their skills.
In an outgoing survey, 76% of people felt that the program improved their career development, 89% of participants said that they would do take part in the program again, and employee engagement went up four points from the previous year (more than the average across the organization).
Allow Ideas to Evolve
Initial ideas (“version 0”) are not something that we take to a boardroom. A thoughtful program will understand and accommodate for this reality. Ideas at “version 0” are usually terrible. They have not been vetted for feasibility nor presented to customers. However, by presenting these ideas to others, receiving and implementing feedback, and critically pivoting and iterating from version to version, you will learn how to make your idea even more valuable to the business.
What is comes down to is creating a culture that is tolerant, but, most importantly, that embraces failure. Therefore, bake iteration into any crowdsourcing program. While there are many ways to foster iterative ideation, here are three that I’ve found particularly useful:
- Enforce team formation before ideas are pitched
- Encourage an environment of transparency and discussion
- Have short business case pitch presentations to weed out weaker iterations
By implementing iteration into the crowdsourcing program, ideas will naturally evolve from broad bullet points to business plans with targeted implementation plans.
Crowdsourcing is not business as usual. Just because there is an email from an executive asking for ideas does not mean that such an email will always remain top of mind. Everyone gets busy with their own priorities and will quickly go back to their everyday tasks.
Equally important to a well-thought-out crowdsourcing program is the communication strategy that goes with it. All the players in the program – not just the employee participants – need to be reminded of their roles, the process, and the next action steps they need to take.
To drive employee engagement, it is best if constant, regular, and targeted communication is dispersed through diverse sources, such as:
- printed posters
- “town hall” meetings
- management presentations
I also encourage incorporating inspiring and out-of-the-box content to drive participation, such as testimonials, celebration of past contributors, and how-to videos.
Building Crowdsourcing Programs that Focus on Employees
In summary, always remember to focus on the employees participating. From my experience employees participate in crowdsourcing programs because they want to learn something new (technology, skill, etc.); they want to meet others who question the status quo or are like-minded experimenters; and they want their ideas to be heard and appreciated by key decision makers. Build employee crowdsourcing programs thoughtfully with a focus on the employees, and in return, they will feel valued and be engaged.