How to increase the ROI of a corporate innovation program?

ROI d'un programme d'innovation collaborative
Innovating is not having a new idea, but ceasing to have an old idea.» Edwin H. Land

Knowing how to innovate is not innate, and willingness is not always enough. Innovating effectively with a real return on investment can only work if goals and ambitions are clearly defined.

Collaborative innovation is a set of tools, methods and strategies in which the impetus must come from top management. It’s a state of mind. An approach that transcends differences, that breaks down silos, that gives free rein to all imaginations and that frees up speech. To catalyze it, it is necessary to have the right tools. Let’s forget about the suggestion box in the staff room and let’s go a little farther.

Within large groups, the capacity for innovation is often constrained by cumbersome processes and approvals. Once an innovative project is integrated into business management priorities, then things speed up. But achieving this is most often an uphill struggle. All the more reason to dwell on the “how” part of the “why”.

Corporate innovation: decryption

It is difficult to encourage innovation in business without really having a clear, actionable and measurable goal. The risk is that the innovation will be transformed into a hollow concept which will then be detached from any operational reality. To avoid this pitfall, you have to set the stage properly. Ultimately, the creation of a new product, service or process will always be the main goal. But this work mandatorily requires an intense stage of ideation that must be prepared and supervised in order to create a positive feedback loop within your company.

Better internal and external communication

Implementing an open and participatory innovation process sends a strong signal by giving employees a voice. They are then stakeholders in building the business’s future. The beneficial effect of this initiative is often accompanied by a direct impact on the social environment. Because a more participatory company is more attractive, it also contributes to retaining talent and developing the employer brand.

Innovation programs, because they are participatory and collaborative, have been identified by HRDs as an effective way of re-engaging employees in the business plan. By working together, building a common project and making collective intelligence grow, collaborative innovation is a unifying bond that inspires a new dynamic.

A transformed corporate culture

Bringing more versatility and flexibility requires bringing forth a new way of organization and governance. A participatory innovation program, based on the principles of self-determination and social arbitration, makes up the first step which may lead, in the long term, towards a new, freer organizational paradigm.

The levers of collaborative innovation

To innovate, you need a framework and a structure. Something that is not rigid, but that imposes operating rules. Examples with four main categories of incentives to encourage your employees to innovate:

  • Innovation challenges, calls for ideas, problem solving and awards: These are time-sensitive, case by case steps for launching or boosting an initiative approved by a panel during an event. The emphasis is on communication and engagement. The profile of employees is not a determining factor in the success of these systems; the critical part is related to the enthusiasm they create and the employees’s desire to “answer the call”.
  • Competitions and calls for projects: These are initiatives that trigger the beginnings of a real intrapreneurial approach. The return on investment aspect and feasibility are taken into account in advance and employee profiles are part of the project selection criteria in an alignment approach between project and project leader. It is necessary to have an evaluation and/or questioning tool in order to promote, give credibility to and argue the projects presented.
  • Collaborative ideas box and innovation management software: This is a useful tool for collecting all the proposals likely to improve the operational performance of the company (ideas, processes, methods, tools, etc.). The aim is to assess them and direct them to the organizational entities responsible for carrying them out. Ideation work that brings a new perspective on the operational reality of the organization.
  • Intrapreneurship (excubation et incubation): These are very successful systems for transforming the internal entrepreneurial culture. An employee who wants to get involved in an intrapreneurial project can thus take advantage of the services offered by the company and leave his position to devote himself to his idea. This may be in a structure internal or external to the company that is equipped with the resources to manage these new projects and support novice intrapreneurs.

Expert point of view: How to legitimize your innovation program?

Ofer Attali, co-founder and CTO of Yumana, was gracious enough to give us his feedback.

Whatever the form and the ambitions of an innovation program, its success is intrinsically linked to the participation of the employees. This is strongly influenced by the degree of confidence that employees have in the system and its ability to produce concrete results. It is normal and human for your employees to ask themselves questions before getting involved. Engagement on their part will have to produce real results so as not to make innovation a simple vague concept having no influence on the company’s daily life. I often suggest that the customers we support with Yumana start by answering certain questions. The goal is to check whether the approach is structured and based on solid foundations.

  • Are there profitability goals, an allocated budget, a steering and reporting process?
  • Are there quantified goals over time? Have you set a benchmark for deciding how to proceed?
  • Do you have a schedule with milestones and control points that is shared with company management?
  • Do you have an investment and operating budget with real autonomy in commitment to expenses?
  • Do you have dedicated resources or resources that can be mobilized quickly?
  • Do you have a high-level sponsor and managerial support from the top?
  • Have you successfully involved the HR, IT and Communication departments in your approach? Are they stakeholders in the governance of the program?

The answers to these questions should make it possible to measure the level of legitimacy of the internal approach in order to decide on the nature of the system that may be feasible in the current context.

What are the means for implementing and boosting the ROI of a corporate innovation program?

To go beyond mere intention, your program must be visible in your facilities. Even a digital platform has to have concrete impacts on your organization, your facilities or your services.

A dedicated place for the various phases of the program

Innovation often requires a withdrawal from everyday life. A place dedicated as a space of creativity or an innovation laboratory gives tangible form to an approach that can sometimes be perceived as too virtual. While it is not necessarily essential to have a fully dedicated place, the organization of regular meetings is often enough to embody the innovation process (we are talking therefore about a phygital approach). However, in the context of intrapreneurship, a place of incubation separate from the usual business environment is essential.

Resources that can be mobilized quickly

One of the keys of a collaborative innovation approach is the ability to produce tangible and concrete results. Innovators, no matter how brilliant they may be, can do nothing if they do not have access to the company’s resources, whether they be financial, human, or material. To design an efficient and profitable system, the resources that may be mobilized in the short term to create the initial successes have to be identified (internal developments, solutions, projects, startups, etc.). This not only makes it possible to strengthen your approach, but also to ensure its sustainability and finally increase the ROI of a corporate innovation program.

Internal support

It is impossible to have a successful collaborative innovation program without the unfailing support of top management throughout its execution. Innovation changes the game. It disrupts, it commits resources, and internal support characterizes its strategic importance. Pairing a sponsor with each selected project, as well as a high-level mentor with each project leader secures your approach and maximizes the chances of success.

The participation of business divisions

Collaborative innovation is based on the company’s resources and skills. This is what makes it a specific innovation system, distinct from open innovation programs. It is also a strength that start-ups do not have. Evaluating the level of participation of key business divisions (in particular HR, IT and communications department) as well as their willingness to join the program, makes it possible to establish what steps the company is able to carry out successfully without risking fatal outcries.

Operating rules on the margins of standard procedures

Innovating often requires circumventing established rules and procedures. The time for an innovation is not the same as the time for a classic project. Although the implementation of innovations requires reintegration into standard business procedures, there is a period during which the idea has to live outside the usual constraints. A space of freedom that depends on the organization of the innovation program (an existing entity or a specific internal structure).

How to steer ideas properly?

Everyone has ideas, but not as many people have good ideas.

But to identify them, employees must be allowed to express themselves. At this point, the risk is being overwhelmed by the proposals and not knowing how to manage, filter and analyze them. You have to get into a gold prospector’s mindset: he spends a lot of time in the river filtering sediment to find a few nuggets.

A contribution aiming to solve a recurring problem will not be analyzed in the same way as a good practice. An idea that may lead to a new service offer for a business division will not be evaluated in the same way as a disruptive or radical concept that potentially calls into question the company’s business model.

However, all employee proposals have value for the company. To see this more clearly, it is necessary to score them with your own valuation criteria. To achieve this, you may use our model or create your own.

Yumana’s 5 evaluation criteria

  • The organizational dimension: what impact may the project have on the organization in place? Will its implementation create significant disruption or a total or partial questioning of what already exists?
  • The business dimension: what is the necessary investment in resources and financial means? What are the new income or generated savings goals? How soon may we achieve balance and profitability from the investment?
  • The human dimension: who is behind the proposal? Does the project leader have the right mindset to bring the project to its conclusion? Is he willing and motivated to lead it? Will he have the necessary support? Do the resources and skills exist in the company?
  • The disruptive dimension: is the nature of the innovation a development of an existing concept or a radical proposal that breaks with the standard model?
  • The strategic dimension: is the proposal aligned with the company’s strategic plan, values and position?

You may then assign a weight according to the dimensions of analysis. The final score will determine the guidance of the proposal towards one of the three components of the corporate innovation process: continuous improvement, corporate innovation or intrapreneurship.

Innovation requires ideas, of course, but above all, a vision and an organizational framework to support it. While there are certain levers for making your programs successful, each system is unique. The transformation of a “good” idea into a viable project that creates business value for the company is a complex process, but not insurmountable, as long as you ask yourself the right questions, adopt the right strategy and tools necessary for the organization and scaling up of these systems.