To make a Collaborative Innovation program successful, you need to implement some critical success factors. The (never-ending 🙄) pandemic might have just brought you these on a silver platter. Looking to the current situation through our Collaborative Innovation glasses, we can say that there is a Collaborative Innovation syzygy, or a true momentum for Collaborative Innovation. At least 5 key success factors for getting high engagement and giving your Collaborative Innovation program a head start are right in front of you. Instead of finding reasons to stop investing in innovation, it is time to grab that opportunity and (re)boost your collaborative innovation efforts.

Innovation Syzygy – Your momentum for Collaborative Innovation.

I hear you – you probably have had enough from this pandemic (honestly, who hasn’t?) and how this can be a good thing (right…). The below success factors are always essential. So if it’s a bit too much ‘pandemic’ or ‘COVID-19’, just replace those words with ‘festival’ or ‘circus’ (trust me, it helps 😊)

Now, let’s have a more in-depth look at each of those success factors and more importantly how you can use them to launch or boost your Collaborative Innovation program.

1. Common Ground

The pandemic has become part of our daily lives and has reshaped our daily routines. After almost 2 years of finding our path in this new normal, it is needless to say that this brings challenges. The current climate is a stressor for wellbeing and tends to drive people further away from each other and from the organization they work for. It is easy to focus on differences, but we must not forget that we are all in this together and that there is still a lot of common ground.

Common ground is known to be one of the best conversation starters. It is a foundation for our long term relationships and provides a pathway of communication which leads to trust. This trust allows us to tackle bigger problems with mutual understanding and a more open mind to the ideas and vision of others.

Use this common ground as a foundation when communicating about your Collaborative Innovation program or make it an essential part of the definition of your innovation challenges. This will motivate your employees even more to come up with new ideas where your company and everyone related to it can benefit from.

Common ground highlights the human aspect of innovation. Everyone understands that it’s not about being innovative, but about the value these efforts create for all of us. It reinforces our willingness to innovate together, to innovate collaboratively.

2. Executive Buy-In: Sponsorship and Transparency

All organizations are facing new challenges once in a while, but never that many similar ones and at the same time as is the case during the COVID-19 crisis. Everyone wants to succeed, everyone wants to survive. During past calls with leaders of Collaborative Innovation programs, I heard two promising things:

  • We have received the question to launch an innovation challenge to tackle this crisis together with their employees **AND** we have executive sponsorship to execute ideas. 
  • We communicate transparently about the challenges this crisis has brought to us and we are transparent on the initiatives and ideas that will be executed to keep our company profitable.

Executive sponsorship and transparency on expectations are frequently underestimated when launching a Collaborative Innovation program. It is essential that these are done right from the start. They are one of the most common reasons Collaborative Innovation initiatives are put to an end. The danger with a lack of sponsorship and transparency, is that you won’t feel the impact early in your efforts. Sometimes companies keep waiting to decide on which ideas will be implemented, because there might still come a better one or they ignore the idea, because it doesn’t match the expectations. After a while your Collaborative Innovation community will feel abandoned in their efforts and they will participate less and less in the future.

Every time you ask for new submissions in your Collaborative Innovation program (e.g. by an innovation challenge) it is recommended to find a (business) sponsor first. Align with this sponsor on the expectations, desired outcome and how resources will be made available. Be transparent about what makes an idea a good idea. This will prevent disappointment for both the sponsor and your innovators.

The past 2 years many of our goals needed to be shifted in new directions in search for fast solutions. This made companies realize that they need to be clear on the expectations and transparent on the progress in order to make a maximum impact. There is no time to overthink whether or not an idea should be pursued. During a crisis as caused by the COVID-19 pandemic this comes almost natural, an opportunity that any leader of a Collaborative Innovation program should grab with his or her both hands.

3. Clear “What’s in it for me?”

Rewards boost the engagement of employees. The same is true for participation in Collaborative Innovation programs. These rewards can be many things. One’s motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Either way, the million-dollar question always remains “What’s in it for me?”. Finding a suiting rewards system depends on several things, such as the corporate culture and thus the people that are working in your organization. The most important thing, is that people know what is there to gain.

Whenever you launch an innovation challenge inside your Collaborative Innovation community, whether it is related to a crisis or not, don’t forget to highlight the benefits for your participants.

The COVID-19 pandemic brings a momentum. It highlights an undeniable gain for all: securing our jobs, surviving and becoming future-proof. It is never a bad idea to highlight this when communicating to your Collaborative Innovation community.

4. Clear Challenges & Goals. 

The current situation exposes our weaknesses and our strengths, our achievements and what still needs to be done. By combining those elements into well-formulated innovation challenges and communicating them in a transparent way, people will be more likely to participate in your Collaborative Innovation program.

In order to maximize participation in your innovation challenges, the definition of your challenges and the desired outcome (goals) should be crystal clear. What is the problem? What is the desired outcome? What is expected from innovators? High-level or vague challenges will turn off participants. “Will my idea be good enough?” “Does my idea match the subject?” As with everything, it’s about balance. Too strictly formulated challenges won’t leave much room for imagination or thinking outside the box.

During the past months, many organizations we work with relied on the power of their innovation community to find an answer to new challenges implied by the ongoing pandemic. The formulation of the challenges was easy, because the problem was clear, the goals were too.

A few examples to get you inspired:

  • How can we re-focus our business operations to remain profitable?
  • How can we adapt our way of working to remain efficient?
  • Which initiatives should we take to keep our employees motivated when home office is the new normal?

It’s important to give people proper direction and boxes to think outside of. Why? Well, I hereby invite you to discover more about that in our blog on why you should stop thinking outside the wrong box 😊.

5. An obvious need for change.

We notice different participation rates in Collaborative Innovation programs for different cultures (country, organizational,…) In highly competitive organizations where one needs to survive or wants do better than others, participation rates are higher. In cultures where a job or income is taken for granted, people need to be reminded more often. During the COVID-19 crisis, we can’t ignore this causal relation: innovate (together) or die (together). It opens a big door with a sign that screams “help us and you will help yourself”. It is an open invitation to innovate collaboratively and to overcome obstacles together. Innovation has become a necessity more than ever, but more importantly it has to be an effort from many in order to succeed.

When communicating to your innovation community, tell them – and tell them often – about the “Why?”. What will happen if we don’t innovate?
Not a single person has the monopoly on knowledge. Allow for close collaboration and cross-pollination to maximize insights in how to tackle the challenges you are facing.

Innovation is always a necessity, but it was never as visible as it has been during the past months. The COVID-19 pandemic never ceased giving us wake up calls. Don’t be mistaken, investing in a Collaborative Innovation community is not only something that can help you to get through the current crisis, it also gives you a thousand pairs of additional eyes and ears to spot new opportunities in the future too. For all we know, another crisis might be lurking just around the corner (I hope it is not 😅).

What are you waiting for?

Many organizations already took their chance to innovate collaboratively by using the momentum of the COVID-19 pandemic. New innovations are mushrooming, both inside and outside organizations. Now it’s up to you, now is your chance. Use the momentum and empower your innovation champions.

What are you waiting for? If now isn’t the time to get your innovation champions together, then when is it?