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Innovation Management

Diversity and Innovation: 5 Tips for Crowdsourcing Tough Topics

Crowd diversity and workplace diversity create a virtuous cycle, making the answers to difficult questions more accessible than you think.

Published By Louise Allen

diversity and innovation | Planview

As an innovation leader you’re on the forefront of diversity and innovation in your organization. You understand how important crowd diversity is — and that crowdsourcing your employees for ideas can boost employee engagement, company culture, and business results. This blog is about how you can use crowdsourcing in different ways to help address today’s novel challenges and pressures.

After all, personal and professional issues are converging on us in unexpected ways: physical health, financial security, workplace safety, emotional well-being, social justice matters, and so much more. Companies are trying to tackle these issues, many for the first time.  

It’s not easy to know what to say or how to ask for feedback on these themes. If you struggle here, you’re not alone. 

Therecurrently a rush to hire chief diversity officers (CDOs) to address these challenges, according to The Wall Street Journal. But turnover in the role is traditionally high as CDOs themselves find it difficult to effect change in their organizations. 

Leveraging crowdsourcing can help to navigate these tough topics, shape your culture, and even emerge stronger after crises. It’s a tangible way to give your employees a voice and foster collaboration — and it makes the answers to difficult questions more accessible than you think. 

In this blog post, you’ll learn list of five tips for using crowdsourcing to approach sensitive issues. But first, let’s quickly review two ways of defining the relationship between diversity and innovation: crowd diversity and workplace diversity. 

Crowd diversity and workplace diversity

Understanding how crowd diversity and workplace diversity work together is critical. When both types get attention within an organizationthe relationship creates a virtuous cycle where one fuels the other in continual ways.

Crowd DiversityApplied to innovationcrowd diversity means broadening who contributes to ideas and solutions beyond the C-suite or innovation think tank. Crowdsourcing — whether it’s through suggestion boxes, surveys, or idea management software — democratizes the process to include employees, customers, and even partners. 

Workplace DiversityThe modern definition of workplace diversity is accepting and embracing coworkers with differences in gender, race, ethnicity, experiences, age, education, culture, skill sets, and more (HR Technologist).Download Why Crowdsourcing Challenges Succeed: 7 Steps Every Company Should Know

Diversity, innovation, and business results

While diversity and inclusion efforts are important on their own merits, there is also evidence that workplace diversity helps improve your business. Millennials, for instance, are more loyal to their employers if diversity and inclusion is a company priority, according to a 2020 study by Deloitte. This has important implications for employee recruitment and retention. 

The empirical link between workplace diversity and innovation is strong. Research shows that greater diversity can lead to better products and services as well as higher sales, revenues, and profitability. 

For example, theBoston Consulting Group (BCG) found that organizations with above-average diversity on their management teams earned 19 percent higher innovation revenue than their less diverse peers. The researchers surveyed 1,700 companies in eight countries on six dimensions: gender, age, nation of origin, career path, industry background, and education.

Connecting this 2018 study with today’s challenges, the BCG researchers recently wrote: “Diversity in the workplace supercharges companies’ innovation prowess…How? People with multifaceted backgrounds and experiences contribute a wider range of ideas and options—making it easier to craft winning offerings that accelerate growth. Diversity fosters resilience, too. With a broad array of perspectives, people can adapt to and bounce back quickly from unexpected shocks.”  

The Wall Street Journal(WSJ) revealed in 2019 that the top 20 most diverse companies in the S&P 500 index have better operating results and higher performing stocks than their lower scoring peers. The criteria for this study included age, gender, and ethnic diversity across boards of directors, senior management teams, and the workforce. 

The advantages of workplace diversity cover a wide spectrum of qualitative to quantitative benefits. But diversity and inclusion deserve attention, regardless of their business impact.

If there’s a gap between where your company is and where your company wants to be, crowdsourcing can help provide you with a roadmap for getting there.   

Why crowdsource tough topics

An innovation management solution provides a vehicle for seeking employee input. Great ideas are not confined to certain people, departments or geographies. Crowdsourcing diversity and innovation issues invites your entire workforce to contribute ideas and solutions.

Beyond helping the company solve issues or uncover opportunities, there’s an intrinsic reason crowdsourcing works. The very nature of crowdsourcing is an inclusive process. Frans Johansson, CEO of The Medici Group, explained the connection between diversity, inclusion, and innovation in a recent Great Place to Work® blog:

“When you have a diverse and inclusive workplace, you can unleash an explosion of ideas in your organization. But remember: hiring a diverse workforce isn’t enough. Employees from every group need to feel psychologically safe to bring their unique perspectives forward.”

When employees feel included, they become more engaged and motivated. They believe their input is valued, whether they are sharing an opinion, submitting ideas, or providing feedback.

As participation and collaboration increase among employees at all levels, you start to build an innovation culture. One of our customers told us: “We’re giving a voice to those who might not have otherwise been heard.”

Whether you are new to it or a pro, crowdsourcing can help address the tough issues organizations and their employees are grappling with today. Here are our five tips for nurturing diversity and innovation.

1. Ask constructive questions

Asking for employee input on these matters requires creating constructive challenges. If you’re using crowdsourcing software, configurable idea capture and collection gives everyone a chance to weigh in on certain topics. All employees should be able to easily submit ideas and provide feedback on other people’s ideas to uncover the best ones, using incentives or rewards as appropriate.

For example, here are a few challenges relevant to today that you could pose to employees:

  • When you think about our organization, what values do you want to see us champion the most?
  • How might we better create equity in our workplace to promote a more diverse workforce? 

What to watch out for: Never run a challenge and then do nothing. Employees need to know that their input counts. You don’t have to execute every idea, but commit to acting on every initiative.

2. Lead with vulnerability

If you ask employeefor their opinions, be prepared for what you may hear. Change requires honesty from your crowd, even though it may be difficult for leaders to digest. Researcher Brené Brown calls vulnerability the key to making authentic connections with people.

What to watch out for: Authenticity is key when crowdsourcing sensitive topics like diversity and innovationIf employees believe that management is only asking to create the perception of caring, then the activity will fail, and you’ll risk disenfranchising your employees.

3. Know when transparency is right (and wrong)

In this instance, transparency refers to a person’s name being visible with his or her suggestionMany innovation challenges are run on the basis of people knowing who submitted an idea, but for sensitive issues, anonymity may be the better approach.

Employees may be particularly emotional about a recent development, for instance, so requiring an employee to “go public” with their feedback may not only reduce engagement but may also elicit answers that are less authentic — neither of which support an organization in identifying areas of improvement. 

If you are on the fence about introducing a challenge, it may be best to handle the matter separately or let the executive team address it — some actions related to diversity and innovation can be done behind-the-scenes and still make an impact. If you decide to move forward, give careful consideration not only to requiring or allowing employees to post anonymously, but also limiting or removing the ability to collaborate on submissions. You may want to not make the submissions visible at all.

What to watch out for: If you’re using crowdsourcing software, moderation is important to ensure the challenge is a safe place for giving constructive feedback.

4. Extend your role from sponsor to advocate

Fostering diversity and inclusion discussions requires diversity of sponsors. Encourage your colleagues outside of traditional innovation areas to sponsor challenges.

HR and CDO staff are obvious ones, but consider what other functions may have to contribute, such as accounting, customer service, manufacturing, and frontline employees. They may be aware of concerns, issues, or opportunities unknown to anyone else in the organization.

Once your peers introduce challenges, personally advocate for their diversity and innovation efforts.

By championing certain challenges, individuals, and ideas, you can help bring diversity and inclusion issues to the forefront. Employees and groups who feel supported will more likely participate and drive future challenges. 

Here are sample challenge questions that any department could ask:

  • How can we help support our customers and colleagues through these challenging times? 
  • How might we pivot or change our products, services, or customer experiences to accommodate changes in our industry resulting from what’s happening in business, society, and government right now?

What to watch out for: With crowdsourcing software, make sure your colleagues understand thtool, its purpose, and relevance to diversity and innovation. They must appreciate that every challenge should have a tangible outcome.

5. Seek improvements over infractions

It’s tempting with crowdsourcing to ask employees to reveal transgressions. For example, are they seeing policy violations or behavior against the company’s values? For some areas, this may be appropriate.

For example, a hospital has an obligation to ensure all patients are treated fairly. It’s important to know about errors and understand any infractions that may reveal discrimination or neglect. In other cases, asking about ethical breaches or other violations may negatively impact your culture. Employees may feel that you are asking them to spy on their fellow employees, no matter how good your intentions.

This is where the focus on tangible outcomes can help. Mistakes are easy to make, especially when organizations are moving so quickly to adapt to changing environments. 

Construct positive challenges that seek improvements.

Sample challenge questions:

  • How might we change our internal policies in order to reduce health disparities among our patients? 
  • How might we involve more of our virtual workforce in new initiatives and decision-making? 
  • How might we alter our product/service offerings or our sales / marketing strategies to serve a more diverse customer base?

What to watch out for: Focus on enacting positive changeAgain, this type of challenge should be a safe place for constructive feedbackIf you decide to crowdsource infractions, active moderation is strongly encouraged.

Crowd Diversity + Workplace Diversity + Innovation = Progress

Crowdsourcing has established itself as a key component of many innovation programs. Just as crowdsourcing can be used to land a breakthrough idea for your company’s next product offering, it can be turned inward to uncover ways your organization can address tough topics. Fostering an environment of diversity and innovation can improve your culture, your response to crises, and even your bottom line — all by giving your employees a voice.

Learn how Planview’s innovation management solution can support your crowdsourcing efforts.

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Louise Allen Written by Louise Allen Sr. VP Products Management & Solutions Marketing

With more than 20 years of experience in all facets of bringing technology products to market, Louise leads the product management and solutions marketing teams for Planview, responsible for product strategy, positioning and roadmap for all three of Planview’s product lines. She is also a proud sponsor of Women at Planview, an initiative that champions diversity in the workplace and the community. Louise joined Planview from Quickarrow, where, as Vice President of Product Strategy, her efforts drove the company from self-funded startup to consistently profitable. Prior to this, she held leadership positions with companies including Tivoli Systems, an IBM company, and NetQoS. Louise received her BS in Business Administration from Trinity University, and her MBA from The University of Texas at Austin.