Companies Using Software to Tap Into Staff Innovation To Keep On Growing & Going

Business Week recently reported on how Pitney Bowes executives are using a program called Idea Central from a UK company called Imaginatik Plc for company innovation, which involves putting the company’s challenges to its workforce to find the solutions. Since 2008, the Pitney Bowes executives have asked workers to tackle 42 different challenges and received about 3,000 ideas. The company has implemented or plans to put in place about 700 of those. Murray Martin, CEO, Pitney Bowes says, "It goes far beyond management deciding to change and to innovate, and there are so many good ideas that could be acted on that are with the people who are right there every day, dealing with customers. A measurable increase in customer satisfaction was almost immediate."

Companies today are under continuous pressure to increase growth while keeping research costs low, so as a result, companies are aiming to get better at tapping in-house expertise. According to Luis Solis, Imaginatik’s Executive Vice-President; companies spend an annual $250 million(approx. £160 million) on collective intelligence tools and estimates that the market is growing 15 percent to 30 percent a year. Apart from Pitney Bowes, other businesses using software and other tools to mine the collective intelligence of their workforce are Wal-Mart Stores, Cisco Systems, AT&T, Electronic Arts and MetLife.

Back at Pitney Bowes, it welcomes ideas that can result in changes big or small and to encourage staff to aim high it created a fun and enterprising competition called, ‘Innovation Idol’ based on the globally famous, talent TV show, American Idol, where an event of the six best promising ideas made onstage presentations to senior management and its CEO dons a Simon Cowell mask to be the tough judge. In fact the pseudo Simon Cowell was so impressed with the pitches made that he chose to fund two of them on the spot.

However, creating the culture of collective intelligence can be a problem at places where staff won't participate or where midlevel managers think it’s a waste of time. Other obstacles are ensuring that staff don’t just bet on ideas such as giving everyone a pay rise as while, attractive to the workforce, it is unlikely to win management backing.

This idea works really well when people recognised as problem-solvers in one area join with colleagues in another part of the  business or regions to tackle larger issues; then over time you see teams coming together, people from very different parts of the world and that‘s when real innovation happens. It also requires honesty from senior executives and it is key to be direct and straight about every idea, including telling employees which ideas that won't work.

Photo Credit: Dierk Schaefer