In our recent Master Class, Jill Longman dives into stories about launching a company-wide innovation program with an 80 percent participation rate. During the call, she explores:
How Med-IQ created an innovation committee process
Practical marketing tactics to create buzz and cultivate an innovation culture
How to effectively launch a company’s first internal innovation challenge.
Jill Longman is a Innovation Committee Co-Chair at Med-IQ, a healthcare education company that delivers continuing clinical education to healthcare workers, in addition to risk management education. Arthur Liberian, Sales Director at Planbox, also shares insights. Planbox is one of InnoLead’s strategic partners.
Five takeaways from the conversation follow. Download the slides from the presentation.
Getting an Innovation Program Started
According to Longman, harvesting innovation from every employee is not possible without the proper structure in place first. “Our company was finding that there were great ideas being generated, but moving them along and making them a priority was challenging,” Longman shares. “Staff obviously had competing priorities. There was no way to track progress, and then there was no accountability to follow through on the ideas.”
This is why Longman and another colleague were tapped by the president of Med-IQ to create an innovation committee, which in turn was tasked with creating a process for collecting, vetting, and implementing ideas. The first step of creating the committee was picking the right people. They chose 10 employees from different departments, including the Vice President of Marketing — “one of our greatest moves.” As a result, the committee launched with an effective internal marketing campaign, she says. The autonomy to choose the members on the committee “was a huge part of why we think we were successful,” she adds.
You’ve Staffed Your Program. Now What?
“After we chose our people, we created a process for collecting, vetting, and implementing ideas,” Longman says. “Once that was finished, we were on the hunt for a platform that would work with our process, and then we ran an internal marketing campaign to kick it off.”
The next step was meeting in person, which took place about a year and a half ago.
“We are spread throughout the US, so it was important for us to get in a room together for a couple of days to hash out what we wanted our process to look like. … We created lots of arrows and scenarios and graphics. … [We had] six to seven pages of workflow documents.”
Now, they needed a platform that could be customized to match their detailed process. They vetted 20 platforms, Longman says, and eventually decided on Planbox. The vetting process included creating a “must have” list and “nice to have” list, Longman says.
Marketing Your Program & Getting the Whole Company On Board
The final step before the “go-live date” was communicating the launch of this new committee and its purpose to the staff.
“Our big goal was to build up as much excitement as possible. We were planning on launching at our all-company meeting…in person back in April [before COVID-19 hit],” Longman says. “About two months before our go-live date, [we started] an internal marketing campaign…in our internal newsletter. We were giving inspirational stories of innovation and how it transformed some companies.”
One of the inspirational stories was the “Flamin’ Hot Cheetos story” — in which Richard Montañez, a janitor at the time, had the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos from a burrito his mother used to make him. This emotional component, tied with an educational component where employees learned about incremental and transformational innovation, was crucial for getting buy-in at a company-wide level.
Kicking Off Your Program With a Strong Launch
While COVID canceled the interactive in-person launch they had planned, Longman’s team of innovators still managed to launch the committee in an exciting way.
“We decided that we needed a little light hearted activity in our company. It was March when all this happened. … So, our next idea came from [March Madness]. We modified March Madness to become ‘Med Madness.’ … We came up with a bunch of innovators and our innovations, we threw them into a bracket system and it was a huge hit.”
Leading up to the actual launch date, employees were instructed to print out the brackets, and filled them out with their families at home. They were also encouraged to fill out “BuzzFeed-esque” quizzes to help employees answer questions like “Which Type of Innovator You Are” and “What Role You Can Play in…Innovation.” Participants were rewarded with badges based on whether they commented or voted on ideas, or submitted their own ideas. By the actual launch date, everyone was excited, Longman says.
“Instead of making people spend an entire day on Zoom calls, we did a presentation on the culture of innovation in the morning; we did a breakout session after lunch; and then we wrapped it up with a conversation presentation in the afternoon,” Longman says. “Before this presentation that our committee did, our president got up and … [said,] ‘It’s okay to fail. We want your ideas. If we fail, that’s okay. But if we don’t try, that’s not okay.'”
Running Successful Challenges After Launch
After the company’s exciting innovation committee launch, employees were introduced to the Planbox platform. They were instructed to participate when interested — it’s completely voluntary, Longman says — and encouraged to share their opinions.
Now, about once a month, the committee shares company updates. During the first update meeting following the launch, Longman’s team kept the energy high by playing music and creating a “top 10” list of ideas and participants. “We’re not just saying, ‘Okay, here’s our update, here are statistics.’ … It was fun. It was light hearted,” Longman says. “It followed that path that we originally started with our internal marketing campaign.”
After the first two months, the program boasted an 80 percent engagement rate. “Getting over 35 ideas, four of which were implemented in the first two months, I think really did exceed our expectations. … Our 2020 goal was to launch the platform, and then to actually choose one or two ideas to implement in 2021. … Looking at 2021, we [want] to implement one of those big ideas that was submitted this year, as well as work with our parent company to cross collaborate ideas,” Longman says.