Sales policies pursued by mobile telephone or internet services providers have long made me angry about their treatment of existing customers as opposed to new customers. When an operator is trying to woo new customers for its services, it dangles an attractive offer in front of them and tailors its message to appeal to particular groups of potential customers. When you have been a subscriber for a while, the operator loses all interest in you: You’ve signed the agreement, Mr Customer. Just pay your bills for the next two years.
Something of the kind can be said about some employers’ treatment of their employees. The employers open up to cooperation with outside organisations, e.g., with start-ups, while forgetting to nurture their own resources. A lot of people have an entrepreneurial streak that could be successfully used by the company which employs them. But what is an entrepreneurial employee to do to get noticed by his own company? Leave? Set up their own start-up so that they could join the employer-launched acceleration programme? It’s not logical and it’s not economical. The employee may leave not just to try their own hand in business but to join a rival company. It’s a gift for competitors and a loss for us when an employee we should be keen to keep departs.
Take better care of your best employees
That is why more and more companies are bringing in solutions that help not only to attract but also to retain the best employees. I have a feeling though that Polish-owned private companies do that sort of thing much too reluctantly. Generally, Polish employers do not listen to their employees, do not reward them for good ideas, and do not invest in new areas. This, among other things, has led to problems with first winning employees and then winning their loyalty.
How then can companies take better care of their own resources? The solution can be creation of company innovation support programmes which will function, on the one hand, as a communication channel for employees’ new ideas and, on the other, reward those ideas that hold out the greatest promise of being implemented. The programmes can take different forms: platforms for posting new ideas to (so-called ‘open boxes’), internal accelerators, where, for example, having completed a series of workshops, employees with the best ideas are given a few months’ leave to work on their own projects. Other types of programme include ‘a start-up challenge’ for employees or a problem driven campaigns whereby the employees from the whole company or from selected divisions come up with ideas how to solve a pre-defined problem. Examples abound.
Magdalena is a partner at CRIDO’s Business and Innovation Team. She specializes in the innovation funding and management. She has authored and co-authored several publications on European funds and public-private partnership. Magdalena is a member of ISPIM (the International Society for Professional Innovation Management), association of professionals focused on innovation management.
4 key factors for company innovation support programmes
In deciding to launch such programmes, we must remember about a few things. We choose and test a number of different programmes in our company – people have different personalities. Some respond better to an accelerator because they have brilliant ideas up their sleeve. Others will fare better in a problem driven campaigns because they may not be particularly creative but because they have a first-class analytical mind and their observations may be invaluable for the whole project.
Secondly, management at all levels in an organisation must be favourably-inclined towards change. It makes no sense for top management to support the idea whereby, as part of an internal accelerator, an employee is sent off to work on their own project, and for a mid-level manager to torpedo the whole exercise because he or she has lost an employee.
Thirdly, there must be a suitable reward scheme in place. It is common across companies that employees are very creative and glad to share their ideas to aid innovation. But, over time, nothing happens: the employees see no reward and no attempt to implement their ideas. A team-wide breakdown in motivation follows. In the end, no one will ever come forward with any idea because they know it will get them nowhere.
Fourthly, innovation support programmes for employees should not be launched and folded at random, but should become part of a company’s DNA. We should design a format to which they will adhere, set up a budget and define the milestones.
Most importantly however, innovation support programmes must be adjusted to the type of company where they will operate. That is why, as part of our assistance to Crido’s clients in launching such programmes, we begin by running an innovation audit. We assess the extent to which a suitable innovation climate already exists in the company, what solutions can be brought in today and for which solutions the company is not yet prepared. Only after we have assessed the innovation-prone conditions, can we propose programmes best suited to the company.
Honestly, it is no use going for the whole lot. The best practice is to take small steps in successively introducing those programmes we are ready to accommodate at a given point in time.