5 Motivations for Innovation

How do you best incentivise participation in innovation? Or conversely how do you avoid accidentally demotivating people through your innovation initiatives?

We’ve heard quite a few organisations ask us a version of these questions, and especially the second question over the years. Needless to say I would guess that innovation programmes can be inadvertently demotivating if the balance between competition verses collaboration wasn’t quite right.

So here are 5 lessons that we’ve learned work well to motivate participation:

  1. Create value at every stage – Make sure that your innovation programme doesn’t just reward a small number of good ideas at the end. Rather you want to ensure it is interesting and engaging for people to participate at every step along the way. At first this might simply mean providing a forum for people to share ideas and learn new things. A little later this then becomes a forum to get or give constructive feedback on their ideas or submissions with helpful suggestions and advice about how it could be made even better. And for those that make it to the final stage it’s all about showing a clear route to market with investment or support to implement and scale it better, faster and more effectively than they could do on their own, learning new skills and creating new opportunities along the way.
  2. Get the community to do heavy lifting – In terms of selecting which ideas to proceed with it’s always smart to get the community to do the heavy lifting at first and structure the process so that they decide for themselves (not you as the programme manager/adminstrator) filter out stuff that isn’t sufficient quality to proceed. That way you can focus your efforts only on those things that have momentum and also have the added benefit of a community of advocates who can help test, implement and promote the idea in the future, which also maximizes the chance of it being successful.
  3. Be specific and transparent about the process and decision making – Never move the goal posts part way through a project. If the goal posts aren’t clear at the beginning it’s better to delay the launch until they are. Of course things sometimes happen unexpectedly that you may need to respond to but with innovation it’s crucial to be clear about what you want and the criteria with which you make decisions. And once you do select specific projects or ideas to proceed, take the time to communicate and explain why these made the grade and wherever possible provide specific feedback to individual contributors about why their ideas weren’t selected, and of course thanking them sincerely for their contribution.
  4. Rewards shared behaviours not just individual ideas – It’s tempting to create a bigger prize pot for the best individual ideas and whilst this might be motivating for the winners, it also tends to be divisive and demotivating for anybody who wasn’t successful. In our experience it’s far better to reward good contributions throughout the process, whether they are ideas or comments or suggestions to create that right sense of collaboration around your innovation programme.
  5. Listen > Synthesise > Share > Repeat – Ultimately, your innovation programme will live or die based on whether it has an impact. This could ultimately be a commercial impact but that can take time to realise. Therefore it’s crucial to firstly show you are listening and then summarise and circulate your lessons learned, and continually invite and welcome feedback at every step along the way.

By following these 5 lessons we have found that people want to participate and are pleased that they did regardless of whether their idea was adopted. As ever we would welcome you lessons – good or bad – about what has motivated or demotivated participation in you innovation initiatives.

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