Innovation. It’s one of those corporate buzzwords – like synergy and paradigm - easily slipped into conversation and gets heads nodding in agreement, while no one has the faintest clue what it practically means, or how to go about getting there.
Everyone wants it, companies need it to survive; yet the magic formula for actually making innovation happen is elusive.
How is a culture of innovation created?
At Kenco, we are tackling the challenge head-on. In 2015, Kenco created the Kenco Innovation Labs, a team dedicated to researching and testing new supply chain innovation ideas and existing ideas that can be applied in new ways to benefit the company and our business partners. In the Labs, we are actively researching a handful of new technologies that show potential to solve business challenges. Some will emerge successfully from the Labs for implementation, and some will fail, but the process is necessary. How many lightbulbs did Edison try before finding success?
While the Labs are an exciting venture, we firmly believe the best thinking at Kenco does not only happen in the Labs. Rather, the associate on a forklift, the pick line supervisor, and the general manager of a hectic warehouse; these are the true problem solvers who are creating solutions on a daily basis. How can we tap into this hidden potential and share these ideas with everyone, rewarding creative and innovative thinking?
We needed a way to encourage associates to submit their ideas, but knew it had to be easy and rewarding for them to put forth the effort. After some research, we found there exists a niche software industry of crowdsource idea platforms – basically suggestion boxes for the 21st Century. The cloud-based software we settled on allows users to “drop in” their ideas at any time, but the best feature of the software is ability to run structured idea competitions to solve specific problems.
Kenco's Idea Challenge:
We have quarterly competitions to gather the best ideas and solutions to a given theme or topic. Recent challenge themes have included “Efficiency and Productivity” and “Safety and Security.” The challenges are extended to all associates and run for one month, with distinct phases for idea submission, commenting on each other’s ideas, and finally voting with a thumbs up (or down).
Frankly, we have been astonished at the popularity of the challenges; dozens and dozens of ideas have flowed in during each challenge, and it has been encouraging to see the thought and creativity associates have put into their idea submissions. We are only able to research a fraction of these ideas in the Labs, but we make sure all other ideas are passed to the relevant departments for further review.
Each and every idea is treated with respect; we don’t want associates to feel like their ideas are being dropped into a black hole, never to be heard of again. Each associate receives an e-mailed note of positive feedback once their idea has been approved for inclusion in the challenge, and they can login to see colleagues’ comments and votes as the challenge progresses. At the conclusion of the challenge, we update the status of each idea so the author knows if the idea has either won the challenge, been accepted for research, is being implemented, passed on to another department or simply postponed for later use. No matter what happens, the associate knows their idea has been heard, seen, and thoughtfully considered and valued.
Idea Challenge Rewards:
At the conclusion of the challenges, the Innovation Labs’ team members individually and then collectively review and score the ideas based on innovation, implementation cost, and positive business impact. We also collaborate with subject matter experts within the company to get their feedback. The two best ideas win first and second place, and the idea with the highest number of user-submitted votes receives the people’s choice award. The three winners get quality polo “Kenco Innovator” shirts, and the first place winner also receives an Amazon Fire tablet.
By using these idea challenges to funnel great ideas into the Innovation Labs, we have attempted to eliminate some of the barriers that typically keep companies from successfully innovating. Associates can see innovation is a company-wide effort supported by key leadership. It also provides them a safe way to criticize bad processes and suggest new ones since they know their ideas are valued. This process eliminates stifling hierarchy that could otherwise prevent them from being heard, and ideas are able to escape functional silos.
Innovation is a continuum, and in this fast-changing marketplace it is imperative for organizations to keep pushing the marker forward against the headwinds of complacency and stagnation. Nimble responses to disruptive external forces is only possible when leadership takes a proactive approach to creating a culture of innovation.
We would love to hear your ideas about our Idea Challenge, your improvements for employee engagement, or other innovative thoughts you may have. Please comment below.