Considering an Ideas Challenge? 10 Tips from the Front Line

Running a great Ideas Challenge takes a little bit of elbow grease. Here are our top tips for getting the most out of your team:

1. Pick your challenges carefully

The challenges you pick will make a big difference to the response you are likely to get. Are they on a topic your staff care about? Do they solve a meaty enough problem to get people thinking hard? But not too tough that they create inertia? Are they worded in a pithy, attractive way? Carefully considering these elements will help you set the right challenges at the right level. Simple challenges will result in simplistic solutions. Don’t be afraid to test the waters by getting the opinions of a few of your future audience before you publish. They may help you improve the way you frame challenges and simplify language to make sure they are easily understood.

2. Have a post-challenge game plan

Before you even start dreaming about the epic challenges your platform will solve, you need to answer the question of “what will come next?”. When you have found the idea that will solve all your problems, how will you bring it about? Will the person who posted it be responsible, or will the innovation team take it on? How will affected groups be engaged or informed? Do you have permission and budget to start projects, or will you instead need to manage them through your organisation’s traditional project system? If you don’t know how you will use the ideas you receive, don’t launch your campaign until you do. You’ll just waste your staff’s time and they’ll have less motivation to participate in the future.

3. Get your communications people on side early

You’ll need to be strategic in how you communicate about your platform to get your audience excited. So it’s no surprise your communications or marketing teams are an invaluable ally in this. You’ll need to work closely with these folks to “sell” the concept of an innovation platform internally, get people logging on, and promoting your challenges. As well as how you communicate success from the implemented innovations to get your organisation excited for the next set of challenges. Make sure you approach them well before you want to launch so they can plan adequate time to support you. If you are managing communications yourselves, it’s still worth getting in touch to get tips on channels and language. They are important gatekeepers, have lots of experience and know your audience. So respect their turf by asking advice and getting permission to use internal channels early.

4. Get support from the top

When the leaders in your organisation pose a challenge, it carries different weight than the one posted by the innovation team. It shows organisational commitment to innovating, and implementing the winning ideas. If you can get sign-off to put the name of your top-dog to your challenge it will make a huge difference to the level of response and priority. Ideally involve them in the challenge-forming process to get them excited about the potential, get them talking about you and supporting the outcomes.

5. Word-up some key supporters

Bring key people from across your organisation into the process of designing and running your challenges. This plays a couple of critical roles. Firstly, it provides more people talking up the process and supporting concept of an ideas challenge. But more importantly, it connects people affected by the potential ideas into the process.

As an example, suppose Mark from customer service is frustrated with a deficiency he perceives in procurement. His idea addresses this deficiency without understanding how the procurement team works. Having a member of the procurement team in your inner circle means you can coach them to respond in a constructive, rather than reactive manner, to the idea. As a result, you’ll see an improvement in both the conversations around, and quality of the ideas.

6. Be ready to learn on the job

Trying something new always comes with a few hard lessons. Be ready to capture these as you go and have a plan to follow up with a range of people after your first challenge to seek advice on how you might improve for future challenges. Commit to this becoming part of your innovation program and don’t give up because your first attempt didn’t come out quite as expected.

7. Measure & promote quality over quantity

When you judge the success of your campaign, try to focus on the quality, not just the quantity of ideas. The quality will determine if an idea will make a good innovation for your organisation in the future, so consider ways you can encourage a better level of response to your challenge. What instructions are you providing? Are you encouraging participants to connect with others or test their ideas? Can you offer design thinking workshops to help participants improve their ideas offline? Try to balance keeping the barriers to entry relatively low with prompting users to think a little harder before hitting publish.

8. Have an innovation strategy, not just an ideas strategy

Ideas Challenges are great fun and can kick-start an engine of innovative activity in your organisation. Ideas do not, however, an innovation program make. It can be most effective to run your Ideas Challenges in cycles, allowing a break for your audience to gain anticipation for the next round. This also gives you time to go get the real work done. What you do with the ideas you receive will be the real determinant of your success. Seeing change result from an activity that some may be skeptical of at first will be crucial to creating momentum for future challenges. Consider all aspects of your innovation practices and how the challenge framework will fit into and support business as usual. Be conscious of energy cycles and where your periods of low energy are likely to be.

9. Be transparent about your process and rewards

Trying to explain how your whole innovation program fits together may be tough, but it’s important to share. Being transparent about your process can build trust. Participants want to know their ideas will be treated respectfully and ultimately go somewhere – making their investment of time worthwhile. Make sure people know what rewards or obligations are likely to result from a win. Likewise help people understand how the judging process will work. People will be disappointed that your boat isn’t called Boaty McBoatface if they don’t know the popular vote is only one factor of consideration.

10. Be ready to try something new!

You may receive ideas that are different and surprising. Be ready to adjust business as usual if the right thing comes along. If you aren’t willing to progress and implement the ideas you select to win, you’ll lose the trust of your participant base very quickly. People don’t appreciate token attempts to include them in decision-making. So if you ask for ideas, be committed trying something new as a result.

Good luck with your ideas challenge! We hope these tips prove useful to your planning and outcomes.

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