Brainstorming new ideas and new ways to solve central business challenges is core to the innovation process.

But COVID-19 has disrupted that process, taking away options like hackathons and design thinking workshops. Instead, work is shifting online, bringing with it a few changes that are crucial to continuing success.

A snippet from Coby Skonord’s session during the Innov8rs Connect Unconference, June-September 2020. To watch the full session recording, join Innov8rs Community with a Content or Premium Pass.

The traditional way of collecting new ideas from your employees is through open suggestion boxes or forums. But, that tends to fall short of the goal, as 70% of ideas collected are typically related to HR improvements. Compared to that method, a well set-up innovation challenge has a few distinct advantages:

  • You’ll receive more ideas. Innovation challenges provide employees with thought starters, making it easier for them to ideate. That, in turn, results in a higher quantity of submissions.
  • You’ll receive higher-quality ideas. Providing the context of the ideas sought (more on that below) helps employees submit suggestions that are more closely aligned with organizational objectives.
  • You’ll achieve long-term engagement. New challenges, run through the same system but on a more regular (monthly or quarterly) basis, continue to engage employees over time. That’s especially true if submissions are time-limited, adding scarcity as a motivating factor to the equation.
  • You’ll control the influx of new ideas. You can decide when to run each challenge. That, in turn, allows you to space out challenges enough to implement ideas from prior challenges before moving towards ideation in another area.

How To Create A Great Challenge Statement

An ideation challenge is only as good as its prompt. Get this piece right, and the quality of ideas you’ll receive will increase drastically.

Here is a three-step process for creating engaging, actionable challenge statements:

  1. Define your goals, objectives, or obstacles. This is where you explain exactly what you want (and need) to achieve out of this challenge. Where possible, tie the challenge to a broader strategic objective for the organization, which makes the ideas you receive more actionable.
  2. Ask why you’ve not currently achieved the goal or overcome the obstacle you’re focusing on. That simple question will help you:
  3. Uncover the drivers behind your core goal or obstacle. If you’re seeking to increase efficiency in the sales department, this means asking why it isn’t being run efficiently today.

At this point, you have the opportunity to narrow and prioritize your drivers. Instead of highlighting sales inefficiencies, you might benefit from specifically discussing your CRM or a higher-than-expected appointment no-show rate. Getting specific allows you to prioritize your drivers in order to better focus each challenge.

Broad or Narrow Challenge Statement and Drivers: Which Works Better?

The final choice you’ll need to make for your challenge statement is whether to keep it broad, or get specific. There is no perfect answer; instead, it depends on your priorities and your front-line employees’ experience with this type of exercise.

A broad challenge statement will almost necessarily result in a higher engagement rate. It’s easier to think of ideas to submit. But those ideas will most likely be lower-quality than if you focused on a more narrow statement designed to improve and solve a very specific driver.

Most organizations start with a broader challenge statement to maximize engagement. Over time, through ideation challenge iteration, the team adds more narrow statements over time, once employees are more used to the platform and process.

Long-term, narrow challenge statements are best. It pays to get specific. Including a specific KPI, a percentage increase for that KPI, and a timeframe for that increase helps employees experienced in the process ideate in ways that are both actionable and likely to succeed.

This is a piece from The Innovator’s Handbook 2021. If you’re keen to dive into the best and latest on corporate innovation, request your copy here. To discuss anything Business Design join our upcoming Innov8rs Connect online event, 7-11 December.