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08 Mar 2019

Is disruption good for business? Yes, if it engages employees to unlock transformation!

It’s a fascinating debate, and an enduring one in academia for decades past. What exactly is business disruption? What makes it different from innovation? And what happens when the two are smashed together to become disruptive innovation?

Most business people have a simple response: I don’t care, as long as my organization is addressing change and accelerating transformation to stay ahead of the game.

The purpose of this paper is not to re-examine past debates, but to articulate a simple proposition for the future. It’s a proposition grounded in reality: the experience of our edison365 customers.

This white paper explores employee led disruption and innovation.

Our customers believe that an increasingly vital agent for business disruption, innovation, and the end goal of transformation is their employees. These are the people with unique insights into how the organization runs. Their ideas spring from the culture and environment in which they work. They generate the disruptive and innovative solutions that stand the best chances of success.

We examine employee led innovation in three ways:

- We look at why employees are emerging as important agents of change

- We examine the kind of ideas that are being generated in organizations that adopt ideation programs and initiatives. (Sometimes as part of full innovation programs.)

- We address the end-to-end process necessary to achieve transformation: from employee ideas to amazing outcomes.

Insider insights

Disruption and innovation theories have ebbed and flowed over the years

Traditionally, innovation responsibility was invested solely in the R&D department. As globalized markets made competitive edge ever more business critical, all kinds of tools and methodologies – like Agile for example – became deployed in order to imbed an innovation culture deep in the organization.

When Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen introduced the concept of disruptive innovation in the mid-1990s, the fault lines between innovation (affecting all areas of an organization’s operations) and disruption (usually involving products and marketplaces) began to get blurred.

And when ‘open innovation’ gained traction a few years ago, there was another divergence of opinion. Some companies started outsourcing their challenges to innovation specialists in an open contest for solutions. That trend towards ‘outsider’ innovation extended to customers when MIT Professor Eric von Hippel began encouraging end-user corporate innovation.

In recent times, the outsider led innovation approach has been seriously questioned. And today, there is a growing view that innovation generated from outside is not easily related to organizational change. Outside opinions that challenge our ways of working is one thing, say seasoned innovation managers, but real transformation has to be driven by insider insights: from leaders and employees themselves.

Many edison365 customers, drawn from every size and type of organization, share this view.

“We didn’t want to outsource the solving of our own business solutions to third parties,”says one Head of Innovation. “We believe our own people are much better positioned to understand the challenges we face.”

Involving your own staff in generating innovation is increasingly important for many organizations today. They find that employees often identify operational challenges and opportunities much earlier than their managers, because they are dealing with those factors directly. Ideation offers a cost-effective and motivational mechanism for finding relevant solutions to all kinds of business issues.

As a key driver of employee engagement, this creates many secondary advantages too. Not least of which is keeping your best and brightest employees. In the Wall Street Journals recent article Best-Run U.S. Companies of 2018 (WSJ Management Top 250), supported by deep research from the Drucker Institute, innovation and employee engagement were listed as two of the key metrics.


Catalysts for change

Organizations adopting ideation programs describe widespread generation of ideas from across the workforce, many of which are potential catalysts for real operational change and digital transformation.

According to one innovation manager, staff ideas typically address business efficiencies and cost savings. Others are directed at core company objectives and are genuinely transformational in their ambition: significantly impacting energy reduction and water usage in one organization where environmental performance is a critical success factor.

Another company says that their employees submitted more than one hundred ideas within a short period of its ideation program being introduced. The best ideas covered focus areas as determined by their innovation team: improved automation, new uses for data, internal process improvement and project proposals for valuable research.

Ideation programs sometimes uncover a single gem of an idea, making the entire process worthwhile. One employee proposed a compelling suggestion for honorary and emeritus positions for retired staff. The aim – in line with the company’s business strategy – was to help retain access to many of the company’s highly valued and knowledgeable employees at a time of diminishing expertise. The scheme would provide recognition of former achievements and encourage loyalty amongst future generations of the employer’s most talented people.

End-to-end transformation

Employee ideation doesn’t happen by itself. Unless organizations create an end-to-end link between the ideas that employees generate, the validation of those ideas, and a mechanism for delivering and measuring their effectiveness, transformation becomes at best a lucky shot in the dark.

Ideation needs careful nurturing before it can shape the future of an organization.

To achieve transformation based on employees’ ideas you require a:

- Streamlined way to encourage and capture those insights

- Standardized and transparent process for assessing the potential costs and benefits of implementing them

- Project system to deliver the ones approved to fly.

Engaging people

From the start, organizations embracing insider innovation have to make decisions about how to reach out to employees and capture their ideas most efficiently.

The clear message from edison365 customers is that they must have a central collection and ideas management point that can easily be accessed by every employee, gives everyone the chance to be heard, offers an exceptional user experience, and keeps track of every idea. Without it the ideation program is deeply vulnerable.

Some edison365 customers are great at ‘reaching out’ – using hackathons and valuable prizes to encourage staff to come forward with new ideas. They still need an ideas site that looks superb, works smoothly, and helps drive user adoption.

“You can’t rely on people writing down their ideas,” is the view of one Innovation Manager. “You need a way to encourage thinking and conversations, and to capture ideas before they are lost.”

Any system that successfully encourages employee ideas requires three things, according to innovation managers. It must have a highly attractive interface, be easy to use on any device, and require zero training. A good ideation platform must also provide an open forum which is structured, transparent, and collaborative.

edison365ideas ticks all those boxes, and more. A real game changer in ideation, it enables ideas to be crowdsourced and rated, so that the whole organization is engaged, and individuals feel a sense of ownership of their contributions. Built for Microsoft Office 365, edison365ideas works with all the applications that people in the organization are familiar with, speeding up the whole process of ideas generation.

Importantly, edison365ideas is part of the award winning end-to-end edison365 suite – a unified idea and innovation management solution that takes the idea from gestation, to assessment for corporate fit, to delivery.

Choosing the right ideas

Generating and capturing ideas is one thing. The next step is to assess them, based on cost and benefit evaluation, before decisions are made to implement them.

Remarkably, there are very few tools available today that fulfil this fundamental part of the journey to transformation.

Many organizations have non-standardized in-house processes for submitting business cases for assessment and approval. This means the sponsors for each case are inevitably tempted to adopt documentation, metrics, and methodology that suit their own preferred outcome. Without standardized processes, fair and accurate assessment of one business case against another becomes almost impossible.

Another problem with business case management in many organizations is lack of transparency. If assessors have no visibility of where cases are in the evaluation and approval cycle, delays are almost inevitable. This problem is compounded when there is not way to see “who’s got the ball?”

Lack of transparency also sometimes means the PMO has no involvement in the business case until it appears at the end of the cycle, approved, and ready to be executed. And that can mean they have responsibility to deliver it without having had any input into estimates of resource requirements or target dates!

Many organizations today are looking for a consistent business case ecosystem, enabling decisions that are accurate, up-to-date, standardized, accountable, and, above all, informed. They need a transparent view of business case processes for every type of case, ensuring process consistency, and organization-wide visibility via a compelling interface.

Built on Office 365, edison365businesscase answers that brief. It makes sure your best ideas are approved quickly, grounded in the evaluation criteria that you set for the process. So, business benefits from approved cases are delivered faster, with less risk. The module helps you spot trends, identify bottlenecks, and solve costly problems. It gives you an entire audit trail and supports internal compliance requirements.

edison365businesscase provides the vital link between edison365ideas, the generator of ideas, and edison365project, the delivery tool.

From ideas to solutions

If employees’ ideas are converted into business cases that can be costed and assessed meaningfully through edison365businesscase, organisations also need a systematic solution to capture, track and measure project delivery across the business, helping to give every project team the chance to deliver the best possible project outcomes.

edison365projects is the module that turns your good ideas into great business solutions and services. edison365projects, the award-winning Microsoft Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solution, enables our customers to seamlessly execute projects through an intuitive, sleek interface. edison365 customers are also using agile tools like Microsoft Planner, Teams and DevOps to support execution efforts. Power BI dashboards and scorecards create actionable reports and views that busy stakeholders can use daily or periodically during important review cycles.

Conclusion

Employee ideation is a compelling contributor to any organization’s disruption and innovation strategy. It promises exciting outcomes, and significant opportunities for transformation.

Although the logic behind its adoption is undeniable, achieving the best results depends on an end-to-end unified idea and innovation management solution.

The unique edison365 modular idea generation and portfolio management suite built on Office 365 is a proven answer to that challenge, enhancing ideation and innovation programs for global enterprises, government or non-profit organizations and start-ups alike. It completes the ideation management circle, enabling your employees’ disruptive and innovative ideas to be captured, effectively evaluated, and implemented with full analysis of the results. So yes, disruption is good for business when it engages employees to unlock transformation!.

Contact us now to find out more.