Innovation and Ideation – capturing employee ideas at scale

In these challenging times during the Covid-19 pandemic, there has never been a more important time to generate ideas from your employees and to get feedback. We are all remodelling businesses and organisations for the challenges of the future. How can online ‘tools’ help us generate ideas and harness feedback?  There are a number of ways to do this. In a recent webinar, I had the opportunity to ask some leading experts on ideation and enterprise social networks about how we best capture ideas, in an environment where all organisations are trying to re-orientate and prepare to return to the new normal.

Did you know 4 in 5 employees have ideas on how to improve their business?

“You can solve challenges more quickly when you get ideas from the people who know these challenges the best,” says Matt Calver, Strategic Partner Manager at leading ideation platform Sideways 6. “Going about things in the right way creates a win-win situation. A win for the business and a win for employees. Employees feel more engaged when they feel they are listened to and they do better work.”

How do you go about this? Matt suggests a model where you capture ideas using the communication and engagement processes and technology employees are already familiar with, which is why Sideways 6 plugs into Yammer and Teams, for organisations using M365.

Upfront you can ask and clarify the ‘why’ – for example why a change is happening. But the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ will drill down deeper. Ask ‘How do we…’, ‘What will work for you…’. In this current environment we can ask ‘How do we set employees back to work safely and customers into stores safely?’ or ‘How do we engage with employees when they are remote?’

 The advantage of using an ideation approach such as Sideways 6 is organisations can capture and harness ideas at scale. The way you go about this and the responses, according to Matt, needs to be at C-level conversations. There will be an impact to the bottom line of business and important issues around safety, diversity, customer retention and reputation.  

Curiosity should be playing a bigger role in organisations

Swoop Analytics, which also plugs into Teams and Yammer, have been listening to the curiosity levels of organisations for a very long time.  

“We can only really start to listen to people at an organisational level when we ask questions”, says Emily O’Brien, Director, Customer Success (APAC) at SWOOP Analytics. Through tracking the questions being asked in Yammer or Teams, Swoop Analytics will enable you to monitor the level of curiosity in your organisation. “Asking questions leads on average to 150% more responses,” says Emily. “Through the Covid-19 pandemic period, we have seen some interesting rises in curiosity levels through our data”.

A case study: How one of Australia’s largest Yammer communities responds in a time of crisis

“If we go back to the start of the year where we had the massive Australian bushfires” says Ryan Crocker, ANZ’s Yammer Group Community Manager “We had a lot of conversations about this on our Yammer network across the globe.” People were posting in their own Yammer groups about how they could support communities impacted by the bushfires. They were asking ‘the how’ question – how they could help? ANZ Bank has 50,000 employees across the globe. Through # hashtags and the Swoop Analytics, Ryan and the other community managers were able to see that they had about over 2500 people talking about bushfires. Many who wanted to lend a hand, turned to Yammer for ideas and to show support.   

In the Philippines, they held a white elephant sale, where 100% the proceeds were going to the Australian bushfire relief.  The team in Japan, part of the institutional bank, held a tea ceremony where they were also raising funds for the bushfire appeals. These posts showed there was a strong appetite to help. This sparked the idea, said Ryan, for creating an Australian bushfires community on Yammer. Then people started to see each other’s ideas and connect with one another. Someone in the small business area shared lists of local businesses who were bank customers, to encourage local support. The marketing team offered to provide creative services such as web copywriting to customers, to support them boost their business during tough times.  And one of the best ideas came when someone posted a picture of Joey pouches. This encouraged knitting for animals who were impacted by the bushfires – including koala mittens and Joey pouches. When you connect people with what seems like a small idea it can really take off and have a meaningful impact.

Covid-19 has changed the way the bank has connected with its people. Through this time Yammer has been a place for people to share their ideas and coping mechanisms with one another. For example, ‘Working from home with kids’ – where people shared thoughts and ideas on how they were coping with working from home. One cool idea involved the traffic light poster on the door of someone’s home office – where amber meant ‘only come in when it’s urgent’, red meant ‘find someone else’ and green indicated ‘fine to interrupt’. 

When they all started work from home, the bank didn’t immediately have all the infrastructure for people to log on to their computers from home on day 1. This was wrapped up over a few weeks by the technology team, but it meant that some people could not get immediate access to their emails and the internet from home. So, the community managers created an alerts community on Yammer so they could put out essential alerts to people straight to their mobile device. They managed this by closing off conversations for alerts (so they were one-way updates), and opening up separate a community for conversations to discuss impacts and for people to raise concerns.

The deputy CEO also ran a poll about the design of the future of work and about how often they might want to come back, and their concerns which got 3500 votes. The number one concern seemed to be catching public transport – which prompted the deputy CEO and team to step back and consider more closely the best way to address these concerns. Ryan and the other community managers are also planning a yamjam (an online forum on Yammer) to discuss and design the ‘future of work’ – and this ideation will feed into the road map for the workplace over the next few years. 

Innovative approaches to generate ideas 

 Angus Florence, from Microsoft, suggested we need to set the right conditions for success. He sees two types of approaches from customers:

1)     The traditional campaign to harvest ideas or get feedback on specific things. For example, where a leader asks for the 10 things that need to be changed. This could involve a more sophisticated ideation approach, such as what is offered by Sideways 6, or a hackathon.

2) The second approach shows the more spontaneous innovations in Yammer, especially where you have a more mature online network. This is where people are connecting in a way that they had no way of doing so before. They are solving business problems which wouldn’t have been possible in the past – now made possible by Yammer. The trick involves building a trusted community or culture where people on the frontline are brave enough to call out dumb ideas and make good suggestions. For example, what is going to affect their customers? Or asking “have you thought through these different aspects…”. It is really important to have a mature safe community where people are comfortable asking questions and feel their answers are being considered.   

About the author: Mark Woodrow is Microsoft 365 Evangelist with Engage Squared – a leading Microsoft Gold Partner. We also partner with Swoop Analytics and Sideway 6 and collectively we are always willing to advise on Innovation and Collaboration projects. Please direct message me if you would like contact details, a recording of the webinar, or to be invited to similar events in the M365 Business User Group on related topics.

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