Sincerely Sima: Keeping Participants Engaged
This is the second entry in the “Sincerely Sima” blog series which takes a look back at the most frequently asked innovation management questions our customer success team encountered in 2015. In our last post we discussed how to keep executives involved in your innovation program. Our emphasis on engagement continues here with a look at what it takes to keep participants engaged as active contributors to the conversation. Have a question you’d like us to cover? Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Sincerely Sima Q&A”.
Dear Sima, We ran a Campaign and saw a lot of initial participation and ideas but then after a few weeks, activity tapered off and there was a large dip in engagement. How do you recommend we get back on track?
Are you moving ideas forward and making decisions?
Lack of feedback is the #1 innovation killer we have encountered across all customers and industries. Many of our customers experience engagement challenges because they are only moving a few ideas through the workflow. Often, they’ve even made their decisions but are afraid to articulate the nos for fear that they’ll put people off. Take for example one of our customers, a global cement company who first launched Kindling in their Mexico division. Their first Campaign was a competition to submit a revenue-driving idea to develop into a project pitch for an organization-wide competition. They received a lot of ideas at the beginning of the Campaign, but left them in an open state and began to notice a significant drop in participation. They had stopped providing feedback because they didn’t want to decrease engagement, but their lack of response ended up causing the very situation they were hoping to avoid.
“Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” - Steve Jobs
Being successful with innovation means being very selective about where and how you’ll innovate and focusing your energy on those few areas to the exclusion of all else. In planning for an innovation challenge, it should be assumed from the get-go and articulated to your team that not every idea will be approved, in fact most ideas will not be approved. There will always be resource constraints such as time, implementation team or budget that prevent you from executing on certain ideas. It’s also likely that some ideas submitted will not align with your business strategy or company values. In other words, nos are inevitable. At the same time, responses are really important.
Saying anything is better than saying nothing
The most effective way to keep an innovation initiative going is to provide feedback. By responding to participants, you’re letting them know that you’re listening and that you’re open to their ideas. This open dialogue encourages people to continue contributing to the conversation. On the other hand, radio silence is a sure-fire way to halt participation. Nobody wants to waste their breath speaking into the void.
So how do you respond without risking hurt feelings?
Begin with gratitude, emphasizing that you’re appreciative of their contribution and time spent even though the idea wasn’t a good fit. Then, be explicit about the factors that influenced your decision making. Did the idea fail to achieve one of your goals for this project? Would implementation require more resources than you have at your disposal? In your ‘no’ response, focus on those factors and how they made this idea a less-than-ideal match for your needs. This removes any personal element that would make your ‘no’ an affront to the idea submitter. You might even provide some tips as to what would make this idea more viable, opening the door for your ‘no’ to become a ‘yes’ down the line.
Saying no can improve the quality of ideas you receive
Saying no the right way, with context and details, can actually be a learning experience. It gives participants a better idea of what you’re looking for and reinforces the guidelines that you set at the beginning of your Campaign. Coming back to our customer example, once the division leads took action on the remaining ideas and explained their rationale, they saw another uptick in engagement. In fact, one of the same employees whose idea was initially declined was then approved by the Mexico division for the global pitch. Saying no can lead to more viable ideas that better match your criteria, and ultimately more opportunities for discussion and engagement.