The most challenging part of the pilot was not to get employees to participate, it was in building the implementation framework
One can imagine the euphoria around the entire organisation brainstorming and generating ideas to solve key business issues
On the surface, Threadless.com may look like just another online apparel store. As you take a closer look you’ll notice a powerful concept being used in a very simple fashion. Customers are designing merchandise they want—providing the apparel store with hundreds of options and ideas. The company gets about 1,500 t-shirt design submissions every week. Each one of the designs are voted on by the virtual community, using a scale of zero to five. The top 10 designs are selected and the winning submissions are rewarded. Welcome to the concept of “Crowdsourcing.”
Crowdsourcing is harnessing the power of a community to collect, evolve, and rank ideas to achieve innovation. The power of crowdsourcing is in its ability to foster collaborative thinking, by a large number of people, building upon ideas that help drive continuous improvement. The concept is not limited to just developing small “Tips and Tricks.” It has the ability to bring forth large breakthrough ideas.
Hewitt Associates’ Global Technology group has been moving towards a similar innovation agenda. With a footprint spanning over 30 countries, five business divisions, and an operating model heavily focused on offshoring and use of vendors, change can be complex to manage. Most recently, we standardized a comprehensive set of technology development practices and processes, internally branded as “Hewitt Technology Processes (HTP).” HTP was designed by middle managers across our organization. The implementation was driven from the top of the technology organization down to our employees. The team responsible for the HTP implementation began receiving a lot of suggestions and feedback from employees. Most of the suggestions were practical and some were very enlightening. It was obvious that we needed to make some improvements based on associate input.
“When we look at what we have been doing for continuous improvement and process, we’ve approached it from the top down. What we really want continous improvement or innovation to be is less top down and more bottom up, or grass roots oriented. So, we are trying a little experiment,” says David Baruch, Hewitt Associates’ Chief Information Officer
Based on our learnings with HTP, we set up a small task force and began our own crowdsourcing—similar to Threadless.com. However, our goal was to not sell t-shirt ideas, but to take our technology organization to the next level to best support our company. So, we started a global pilot involving all technology associates. Using an externally hosted crowdsourcing tool, employees began to collaborate on ideas through contributions, voting, and feedback. The most challenging part of the pilot was not to get employees to participate, it was in building the implementation framework. To be successful, we had to put the following infrastructure in place:
• Communication Framework - A powerful communication campaign, including a brand concept.
• Change Management - The plan in how we manage the change from the bottom up (employees) to top down (leaders).
• Campaign Definitions - Setting the context or boundaries for employee idea generation.
• Idea Workflows - The process or stages in which ideas flow from inception to implementation.
• Roles and Responsibilities - Clearly defined roles and responsibilities of each employee within the technology organization, including middle and senior management (e.g., idea reviewers, experts, business case analyst).
• Idea Lifecycle Process - A process to ensure “quick action or discard” of ideas.
• Idea Review Process - A leadership review mechanism.
• Rewards And Recognition - An incentive based program to help motivate people and keep the momentum going.
Once the infrastructure was in place, the Technology innovation pilot was successfully launched. We had approximately 1,000 employees actively contributing—800 ideas submitted and 3,800 comments posted. Ideas were generated across all levels of the technology organization. From freshers to post graduates, employees let their imaginations soar. Senior technology leaders in Europe and the U.S. reviewed the ideas and provided their feedback. Imagine what it does to the overall employee engagement when an associate sitting in Gurgaon, India sees his idea reviewed by the top leadership and applauded for his contribution, or counseled on implementation?
But, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Hewitt is implementing 36 of the ideas generated from our pilot. The initial pilot was targeted towards the Technology function, and now it is being introduced across the company to help drive solutions for questions like “What are the new product capabilities that we need to have?” and “How can increase service offerings to our clients?” Only one can imagine the euphoria around the entire organization brainstorming and generating ideas to solve key business issues. And, why restrict crowdsourcing to employees? Why not go ahead and get clients (and future clients) to tell us more of what they want? That’s a step toward building the next generation organization.