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Successful Sustainability Strategy Leans on Innovation, ‘Gamification’

To survive and prosper in a rapidly shifting business landscape, companies must constantly evolve. One example of this evolution is seen when forward thinking leaders incorporate sustainability into their business strategy. A successful sustainability strategy depends upon embracing a fundamental shift in an organization’s way of doing business, an eagerness to find new ways of identifying challenges and seizing opportunities. Effective leaders recognize that their organizations will thrive through creativity and innovation. But it’s one thing to decide to be innovative; it’s another entirely to make innovation an integral part of your corporate culture.

Gamification of innovation

By 2015, more than 50% of organizations that manage innovation processes will ‘gamify’ those processes (Gartner Inc., 2011). Gamification is the process of taking the concepts used to design games to be engaging and applying them in non-game environments such as innovation, marketing, and training. There is no better way to get all of your employees thinking about how to solve the challenges facing your company than by motivating them to do so through a process of fun and play.

Both physical and digital suggestion boxes exist in many workplaces. But do employees bother to put their ideas in those suggestion boxes? And if they do, does anyone read them? And if someone reads them, how does that someone decide which ideas should be acted upon? And if they should be acted upon, how should that be done? These questions have many answers, but one thing is certain: The process is cumbersome and offers little consistent promise of useful idea generation and implementation. Thankfully, there is a better way.

The power of the crowd

Innovation management software ‘gamifies’ the process of idea generation and assessment. Here’s how it works: Company leadership communicates an ‘innovation challenge’ through the employee engagement platform. Employees then have an opportunity to offer their insights in three ways:

  1. present their own ideas about how to address the challenge;
  2. offer comments to discuss and perhaps build upon ideas presented by others;
  3. indicate their support (or lack thereof) for a particular idea.

People’s reasons for participating range from intellectual curiosity, to a desire to have the value of their ideas recognized, to built-in participation based incentives. As more and more people engage in this ‘marketplace’ of ideas, the power of the ‘crowd’ becomes apparent. Good ideas evolve and grow, weak ideas quietly disappear from the debate, and great ideas rise to the top and assume a dominant role in the collective discussion.

To further encourage engagement in the innovation process, reward points can be offered as incentives for participation. The platform can allow for regular prize redemption based on earned points – perhaps a restaurant voucher, a getaway weekend, or the chance to share lunch and conversation with the CEO.

Let the market decide: Sort the wheat from the chaff

To quickly identify the best ideas, some platforms allow users to invest in ideas they think have merit. Investing in ideas is an integral part of the innovation ‘game’. Based on the investments of their peers, users see the value of their ‘idea portfolio’ rise or fall. This stock market style interaction acts as a ‘predictive market’, efficiently and effectively prioritizing ideas based on the collective belief of the organization. Innovation team members can then focus their time on evaluating and implementing the top ideas selected by the internal market. Without this type of predictive market, an innovation management platform is far less effective; user participation and engagement tends to decline with time, and the platform acts merely as a social network style discussion forum without a functional ability to rank the ideas most worthy of further exploration.

Process

Advantages of using an innovation management platform

The advantages of an employee engagement platform for idea generation and evaluation, especially one with a predictive market component, are clear:

  1. employees become more engaged and feel empowered as they see their ideas recognized and appreciated;
  2. a sense of community and common purpose develops among people who may work in different business locations and divisions;
  3. the collective wisdom of the group is leveraged to create, build upon and prioritize new ideas;
  4. exciting and innovative business approaches and ideas that may never otherwise have been imagined are brought forward to deal with challenges and seize opportunities.

With these benefits, an innovation management platform is ideally suited to address sustainability challenges such as how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, use less energy, minimize packaging and transportation costs, or replace scarce raw materials in the supply chain. Sustainability and innovation go hand in hand.

Portugal Telecom: an innovation success story

Over four years ago, Portugal Telecom (PT) adopted the innovation management platform Exago Market. It was a time of rapid changes in the telecommunications industry, and the leadership team at PT knew that it was time to embrace its existing culture of innovation in a new way to remain competitive. PT had always encouraged the sharing of ideas through traditional ‘suggestion box’ type means, and they’d also implemented automated idea sharing platforms, but these tools were slow, the volume of submissions often overwhelming, and the ability to assess the ideas as a community was limited. For all these reasons, explains PT Innovation Management Executive João Dolores, when PT encountered Exago Market, “we knew we’d found our solution.”

Using this idea market over the past four years, PT’s culture of innovation has come to permeate every division and employee in the company. There have been both tangible and intangible benefits, including cost savings of approximately €30 million, a reduced carbon footprint, and increased employee engagement. Dolores describes Exago Market as, “the most effective idea management platform I have seen in the marketplace.”

Maximizing innovation through partnership

While there are other companies using gamification and predictive markets in their innovation portals, Exago’s delivery model is unique. With Exago, you don’t receive a simple off-the-shelf product, but rather you embark on a process of long term relationship building with a business partner who gets to know your company, your people and your particular needs.  Your partner will make sure you get the most out of Exago Market’s ability to build your business with equal parts innovation and employee engagement. And Exago software can be used to identify winning ideas based on the collective wisdom of not just your employees but all stakeholders including suppliers and customers. In North America, this unique collaborative model of innovation is guaranteed by Waabii (Exago’s exclusive North American partner).

Quality assurance through monitoring, cooperation and ongoing support

If you’ve ever played a game with someone who didn’t respect the rules, or whose inappropriate side chatter tested your patience, then you know what happens when a game is poorly designed or managed. Waabii answers these challenges with innovation process monitoring and mediation. This means that every idea and comment that is entered by users will be vetted according to criteria (that you can help define) before it goes ‘live’ to the community. Expert monitors probe for clarification from users whose submissions seem unclear, gently guide those whose language may be inappropriate, and explain to some users why their ideas may not be fodder for productive discussion (e.g. How about a 500% raise and 26 weeks annual vacation for everyone?).

“Mediation and monitoring is just part of the personalized innovation process support offered by Waabii,” explains Jesper Bank, Waabii CEO. “We help companies and organizations enhance and maximize their innovation capabilities by collaborating with them from challenge to idea to execution.”

Innovation is the key

According to research by international management consulting firm Arthur D. Little, “the most innovative global companies achieve up to twice as many sales…and take half the time to break even when they introduce new products and services, compared to the average company.” In the competitive world of business, innovation is the key to success.  To truly embrace innovation, an organization must leverage the insights of its greatest asset – its people.  Fortunately for today’s leaders, with the right innovation management platform, doing so becomes as easy and fun as playing a game.

Adina Kaufman is senior editor and chief storyteller at TSSS. Her passion for our planet has led her to hike trails, paddle rivers and sleep under the stars in Europe, North America, South America, Central America, Australia and New Zealand. Her commitment to sharing her passion for the natural world inspires her writing and drives her work at TSSS. “I am constantly striving to tell just the right stories, with just the right words, to convince everyone to join us on the journey of sustainability.”

This article is reprinted with permission from the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series. Look for a white paper titled, Capitalism 2.0: Strategies for the 21st Century Enterprise coming in June. The paper will provide strategic guidance on how organizations can thrive in a new economy – an economy that we’re calling CAP2.

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