Using Employee Voice in Open Innovation

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One of the key trends that we’ve seen with Workometry clients over the last 18 months is the increasing use of Employee Voice as a contributor to enable innovation across global organizations. Leading firms are increasingly actively involving their employees in contributing ideas and identifying issues that need addressing, effectively using the huge cumulative insight as large-scale collaboration.

To understanding this trend in more detail I interviewed Yves Zieba, a prominent advocate of open innovation here in Switzerland. I hope that you enjoy it.

Yves Zieba

Yves Zieba

Hi Yves, could you please give me us an introduction to who you are?

I am a typical ‘slasher‘. I share my time between co-animating an open innovation space, facilitating workshops on strategic agility, design thinking or fablab experience. I am also coaching successful SMEs in the European Union Horizon 2020 program. We apply leading edge practices in facilitation with Seethrough and with business models for the open economy workshop from Without Model. It is our way to combine open innovation principles, facilitation skills on emerging HR trends or peopletech topics.

What is ‘open innovation’? How are firms using it?

 It is primarily a mindset. It is often confused with open source. There are similarities, although it is not exactly the same thing. The idea is to co-create with the right customers, partners and providers. It is the exact opposite of what is happening in closed and highly secretive R&D departments. It can take several formats. What I see most these days are idea box, hackatons, public private partnership, problem solving contest, UX beta testing communities, or corporate venturing (i.e. large group working with small startups in different partnership formats).

What is the employees role in open innovation ?

It is to adopt this open mind, this equal-to-equal relationship, and to develop their ability to co-create, to work in flexible teams co-develop modular solutions with external stakeholders in a similar way than with internal stakeholders. Most of the time the open innovation transformation is taking place at the same time as the digital transformation. So the employees role is to drive this change, or at least to understand and contribute positively to this change. To some extent, taking some risks is also part of the game. Employees can now take advantage of the emergence of new management technics and latest organisation design, such as holacracy.

When we facilitate open innovation or buisness models for the open economy workshop, I am surprised to realise how little most people know about these principles or about creative commons licences.

What have been the challenges to using employee voice in this manner ?

In open innovation as well as design thinking the prerequisite is to adopt an equal to equal relationship. I typically ask everyone to adopt a beginner ‘s mindset and to start to « think together ». In reality, it takes time as existing hierarchies continue to carry their weight, and are making use of their business stamina in many organisations. So when we are using employee voice, typically in an « idea box » context, it is crucial to have transparent criteria for selection. We can also introduce elements of collaborative and participative approach to project selection and investment decision making. We plan ahead to be clear about the rules of the game (which idea will be funded, how, what will happen to the team, who owns the IP…). Companies sometimes fail, it typically occurs when they ask their employees to contribute and then fail short when it comes to implementing great ideas.

Who would you say has done this well? What benefits did they realise ?

There is a long list of organisations who have been using open innovation extremely well and successfully for years. To name a few, Quirky, for collaborative inventions, SamsungLegoGE with their ergonomic design challenge, Philips, on crowdsourcing in the healthcare and well being industry, Baiersdorf with the Nivea campaign, Procter & Gamble Connect & Develop campaign or Mozilla toolkit are some of my favorite examples. The University of Geneva Quality of Life Lab  and the Geneva Lab togther prepare a great program with EnoLL, there should be lots of best practices being displayed at OpenLivingLabDays2018 during the week of August 23rd

These players have adopted what they like about open innovation to meet their needs.