Novozymes, the Danish leader in industrial enzymes and microbes is replacing old-style innovation management practices with their own style of ideation through crowdsourcing.
With more than 1000 R&D employees worldwide, their scientists were often unaware of complementary inventions produced elsewhere in the company. Idea generation tended to be siloed and stuck in a rut, time was wasted and staff creativity suppressed.
In 2011, the R&D management team set a priority: to speed up the process of new product development.
They recognised that an internal ideation campaign based on the concept of crowdsourcing could help to enhance both the quality and quantity of ideas. “It would encourage our scientists to develop brand-new products as well as to cross-pollinate their ideas with feedback and insight from other colleagues,” explains Frank Hatzack, Head of Innovation Development at Novozymes.
The project was launched on a Nosco-based social platform, which they called COLIN. The name is the acronym for Collaboration (COL) and Innovation (IN). Run through a competition format, a number of staff could submit their suggestions for new products, but also take an active role in the screening process. Within a period of one month, the campaign fulfilled its goals, generating ideas within high-growth markets. “One of these represented a radical innovation that opened up an entirely new enzyme application.”
Since then, Novozymes has extended the initiative to the rest of the organisation. They have been running the campaign on a monthly basis, each time with a new “internal small crowd” of about 150 employees. “So far, we have run 30 campaigns, involving employees across Europe, China, Japan, and the US. We have generated more than 2000 ideas and turned some of the best into commercial products, patents or new business strategies.”
Managing front-end innovation
The campaign is structured in stages. At the outset, the organisation appoints the Screen Team, whose members are in charge of inviting selected participants to the dedicated group on COLIN. “The Screen Team selects the most informed employees and those who have been identified as having high innovative potential for that particular campaign.”
To make the process democratic and transparent, the company posts an open letter on the intranet. “We give detailed information on the purpose, scope and process of the campaign. And, anyone who would like to give their feedback on the selected team’s ideas can join.”
To ensure maximum clarity they run three kick-off webinars, one for each major time zone in which staff operate.
Don’t underestimate the power of the engaged crowd
Participants submit their proposals as well as comment on others’ inputs during a two-week period.
Once the conceiving stage is closed, the results are analysed. The Screen Team identifies the good ideas based on a set of criteria. “For example, the first R&D campaign looked at technical feasibility, originality, customer need, resources required to realise the idea, sales potential and competitive advantage.”
At the same time, they take into account the “power of the engaged crowd,” which means all the comments, likes, and critical feedback shared by others. “Comments require effort, time and attention. By offering their feedback on a colleague’s idea, participants can provide with a rich form of information that may be overlooked by the Screen Team.”
At the end of the process, the winning ideas are promoted to the maturation stage.
Hatzack cites a number of factors that contribute to the success of ideation collaboration.
1. “First, clear communication.” The goal of each campaign and the criteria for evaluating ideas are communicated both before and during the campaign. They are also displayed alongside the ‘idea entry window’ on COLIN, so that employees are well aware of them as they enter the competition. “This openness and transparency of information has a positive impact on trust.”
2. Gamification also helps to boost motivation. “We award the submitters of the five best ideas, as well as the most active commenters.” Prizes are of symbolic value. They can be a bottle of wine, a voucher for dining out or toy animals. The real reward comes from the recognition given in front of the rest of the company. “We run an award ceremony at the end of each screening stage. We take pictures of the winners, upload them on the intranet and make colleagues famous to the rest of the organisation.”
3. Another key element is to run the campaign with a relatively small group of employees each time, rather than involving the broader workforce all at once. “Online collaboration is a powerful tool for boosting idea generation in large enterprises. However, management may experience an overload of proposals from employees. Working with small crowds helps to overcome this challenge and achieve concrete business results. Plus, the motivational effect of being selectively invited stimulate staff to participate actively.”
4. Variety in the pool of participants is another important element. “We call it optimum diversity. We are very careful at avoiding conformity by bringing in people with different perspectives and backgrounds. That’s essential to innovation.”
5. Finally, the possibility to comment: “Allowing employees to post comment increases the opportunity for feedback and helps colleagues to elaborate on their ideas.”
Asked about the future, Hatzack’s answer is “we’ll continue using this approach to idea generation through the digital process we have put in place.”
However, he emphasises: “that is not about the tool; it’s about a collaborative culture open to innovation. We like discussing and sharing ideas, experimenting with them and learning. The platform is just the enabler.”