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Building Blocks for Your Own Innovation Disruption (Part 3)

Are you ready?

It’s time to complete the foundation and launch your own innovation disruption—companywide.

This is the last of my three-part series. I lay out the final three building blocks needed to shake up bureaucracies and turn them into startup-like cultures. To transform employees into entrepreneurs. To fire up innovation. And to jumpstart disruptive, game-changing solutions.

These nine building blocks formed the foundation of Cisco’s recent Innovate Everywhere Challenge, which just captured three Gold Awards from Brandon Hall Group’s 2016 Excellence Awards program:

  • Best Unique or Innovative Talent Management Program

  • Best Advance in Employee Engagement

  • Emerging Stars Program

“Winning a Brandon Hall Group Excellence Award means an organization is an elite innovator within Human Capital Management. The award signifies that the organization’s work represents a leading practice in that HCM function,” Rachel Cooke, Chief Operating Officer of Brandon Hall Group and head of the awards program, said in a recent press release.

Now, adding to Part 1 and Part 2, here are the final three building blocks needed to ignite innovation across almost any organization:

Seventh Building Block: Provide open platform to communicate, connect and collaborate

In Silicon Valley, it’s well known that startups rely on trusted relationships and success is a team sport. Open and engaging communications reinforce this culture of entrepreneurism. Open communications empower innovators at all levels to connect, converse and collaborate on projects. Transparently!

Corporations must also nurture an environment of open communications to build trust, unleash talent, form teams, and experiment. All media channels, events, and champions should reinforce these messages of cultural change frequently and consistently.

Walk the talk. In a startup, everyone can gather around the coffee machine or the nearest open space to brainstorm. In a multi-national corporation, you must provide a virtual break room. Make sure everyone can access an open collaboration platform where it’s easy for employees with like-minded ideas to find each other and form teams. Founders can search a directory for the missing talent on their teams. Someone with a particular skill or passion can find the right team to join. Innovators can create localized communities online to share ideas instantly. Shape your own version of Silicon Valley.

When developing ideas, the platform should also allow teams to connect with executive sponsors, mentors, coaches, and concierge services. And everyone should be able to quickly access all types of support, tools, and resources throughout their innovation journey.

At Cisco, we also provided a resource-rich website. Here, employees could not only find and download everything they needed to model a lean startup, enter and win the challenge. They could also track the progress of entrants, cast votes, and make comments. All this stimulated participation and excitement.

I cannot overstate the importance of collaborating closely with employee communications to help make your program successful. In our experience, an exceptional partnership with employee communications not only ramps up buzz but also helps inspire your own team to think more imaginatively. Join communications at the hip to raise engagement by co-creating impactful experiences and regular updates that spotlight successes and failures, key milestones, and team progress from start to finish.

Eighth Building Block: Establish right metrics to assess practical results

Some people say that innovation can’t be measured. I disagree. Innovation can and should be measured. However, one of the biggest mistakes companies can make is applying traditional measurements to transformational work such as innovation. Financial measurements such as Net Present Value or Rate of Return really aren’t always relevant when gauging the success of an internal innovation program.

Innovation projects also have different levels of risk, uncertainty, and relationships in both the short- and long-term, requiring new ways to determine success. It requires a vision, a leap of faith.

We do measure revenue impact, but we also gauge employee engagement, the formation of informal networks, or the growth and strength of our community of innovation mentors and coaches. We also look at the impact of the program on attracting and retaining the best talent and uncovering novel technologies and business models.

Of course, the ultimate measure for any internal or external innovation program is how well it unearthed new solutions that add leapfrog value for customers, the solution provider, and their employees. Not all innovation projects though can be monetized. Strong teams, for example, might not necessarily bring in money, but they help the company down the road.

Ninth Building Block: Gamify it and have fun!

Last but not least, make this serious business a fun and exciting experience that inspires employees, where the stakes and passions are high, and the winners celebrate victory with their colleagues. Don’t make it a grueling competition.

Gamify it!

Engagement will soar when employees have creative ways to vote, root for their favorites online, hoist banners at events, search for like-minded team members, or brainstorm in online communities of their own making. We haven’t incorporated Pokemon GO-type features yet. The lesson, however, is to fuel dynamic interactions through collaboration technology, exciting life experiences, and the latest social media sensations.

From ideation to seed funding and full venture development–from a selection of 15 semi-finalists to three winners—employees worldwide should join in the action, whether at in-person events or via live-streamed broadcasts. Excitement grew to a crescendo when the six finalists pitched and demoed their ventures to a panel of judges, and leaders announced the three winners at an All Hands meeting a few days later.

With cash rewards and new resources in hand, the winners now are taking time off to develop solutions that they can bring to the market. It doesn’t stop here. It’s actually the end of the beginning. It’s critical to sustain momentum and credibility by featuring the winners’ progress companywide, even as you plan your next series of innovation disruptions.

These nine building blocks in our Innovate Everywhere Challenge helped to ignite innovation, inspire employees, and engage about half of Cisco’s 72,000-person workforce. Employees formed more than 2,000 teams and generated 1,100 ventures worldwide—nine of which the corporation is funding for further development.

We in the Corporate Strategy Innovation Group spearheaded the co-development of this innovation disruption as part of a grassroots movement. We enlisted the collective support of “co-conspirator” rebels, business unit executives, and the C-suite, including CEO Chuck Robbins and Chief People Officer Fran Katsoudas, and so many energized partners across all employee functions. Thank you all!

There you have it. Now the nine foundational building blocks are set. Whether you’re in Strategy, HR, Engineering, or wherever you can be the catalyst for a companywide innovation disruption. Build that coalition. Get air cover all the way to the top. Develop deep resources. Incentivize innovators.

Igniting an innovation disruption companywide is hard. The risks are high, but the potential rewards are much higher. In today’s digital age, there really is no choice but to transform into a startup culture of innovative entrepreneurs. The time is now.

Ready, set, go!

Meanwhile, if you have questions, get stuck, or need an innovation therapist, don’t hesitate to contact me:

Twitter: AgoryachAlex

This article originally appeared in Cisco Blogs on September 29, 2016


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