Q&A: Employee Engagement Issues

By Scott Cohen |  April 21, 2015

We’re introducing a new Q&A feature as a way to let members ask questions anonymously and get useful answers from other members. If you’ve got a question, just drop us an e-mail, and let us know if you’d like an answer from a company of a particular size or industry (or even from a specific person or company.)  The question below was answered by Anne Marie Dumais, the former SVP New Product Introductions at The Nielsen Company who is now at Brightidea. We thank our longstanding partner and supporter Brightidea for their assistance, and we invite your comments at the bottom…


Though we’re a $10+ billion company, I wouldn’t say that innovation is in our bloodstream. We’ve been working to instill a culture of risk-taking and innovation, and are butting up against employee engagement issues. Do you have any recommendations on program structure, team structure, and employee education? Any general principles you can share on “what works?” Thanks.


This is a great question. The perfect recipe for enabling enterprise innovation is highly dependent on the organization’s structure, culture and operating mechanisms. As a first step, we suggest taking this short Innovation Strength Assessment. This survey will help you identify existing strengths and opportunities for improvement, while recognizing all prior efforts and building your innovation on a solid foundation.

To Frame Your Thinking

Every company has business functions, like an HR or IT department that are shared across the organization – so why not innovation? These ‘shared services’ centralize resources so businesses can function more efficiently. Developing an innovation program in a similar fashion, as a shared service allows companies to extract measurable value from ideas at scale. In fact, outperforming organizations are 79 percent more likely to establish a dedicated innovation team.

Program Structure: Grounds Innovation

A strong foundation starts with setting up a centralized, shared service for the innovation program – we call it Innovation as a Shared Service (ISS). ISS is a structured methodology for deploying a collaborative innovation process, governance and tools within an organization.

The ISS methodology and tools provide discipline and organization around an ascribed set of roles, activities, and processes that maximize innovation success and help the enterprise sustain and adapt innovation efforts to the future needs of the organization, supporting growth and producing meaningful results.

Here are a few of the major tenets that create a solid foundation for any innovation program:

C-Suite Presence

Having the c-level executive team provide frequent and visible support of the innovation program is key. Making the innovation program part of the company’s culture requires executives messaging frequently about innovation. Their messages should:

  • Be clear on what the company defines as innovation
  • Embrace and celebrate “wins” and recognize the value in learning from “dead-ends”
  • Believe and convey the fact that ALL employees add value to the innovation process
  • Highlight areas of strength, and opportunities, via innovation metrics

Active Sponsorship

Every innovation challenge should and must have a sponsor. The sponsor is the person who ultimately is accountable for the purpose, rationale and final actions taken as it relates to the “challenge” (see definition below). However, having the sponsor’s name is not enough. They must actively engage in the actual creation of the challenge to ensure the outcomes are something they can ultimately implement. Being clear and specific as to the role and responsibilities of the challenge sponsor is very important to the ultimate success of the challenge.

Program Charter

Your innovation charter must be simple, clear and, most importantly, endorsed by key stakeholders. This may seem like a simple task, but getting both clarity and buy-in simultaneously on a discrete set of innovation goals is no easy task, particularly in large organizations. However, this charter drives the speed at which the innovation goals and scale are achieved, so it’s extremely important.

Team Structure: Facilitates Innovation

Regardless of your organization’s level of innovation maturity, having an innovation team in place to manage the process is key. The structure of that team can vary:

  • Organizations leveraging the ISS model should centralize efforts under a single Innovation Program Manager (IPM). The IPM’s role is not to own all of the organization’s innovation, but rather to be the company’s facilitator and guardian of innovation.
  • In more advanced organizations, we recommend and teach how to set up a distributed IPM model whereby functions and geographies are enabled with multiple IPMs.

The core innovation staff should:

Be Staffed with HiPo’s

The persons who actually make up this team should be very familiar with many (if not all) parts and functions of the organization and regarded as high-potential employees (HiPo’s). They should have a contagious passion for innovation and a high degree of corporate stewardship – putting the overall organization’s needs first. Although many skills will be required, one of the most important is experience in dealing effectively with change management. Depending on the organization, sometimes a corporate maverick-type will be needed to get the job done, or in other organizations a socializer. Either way, this position should be well regarded and career advancing.

Empowered to Govern

Putting names and faces on an org chart is not enough. The C-level executives and sponsors must empower the innovation team. Upon successful charter completion, clear roles and responsibilities for the team must be documented and communicated across the company. Part of this team’s responsibility is to oversee and continually optimize the innovation process, so the team must be empowered to govern. Governing the process ensures global ownership, compliance and holistic portfolio measurement of a company’s innovation.

Have Budget Dollars

For organizations just starting out it’s important this team have the budget available to invest in necessary innovation management tools (like Brightidea), including:

  • Accessible Resources to outsource and/or hire additional staff to handle increased demand
  • Marketing Materials such as posters, collateral, videos
  • API Integrations across various tools such as Brightidea, SharePoint, Jive
  • Site Design/Seamless UX between workplace tools
  • Training for employees, sponsors and the innovation team itself
  • Rewards/recognitions for participants

Employee Engagement: Empowers Innovation

Ultimately all innovation is built on people. So THE most important ingredient to success is your employee base, and the way you nurture this valuable ingredient will make or break the innovation program.

Here are just a couple examples of how we share and teach IPM’s to engage and educate employees:

  • One-Stop-Shop: Tell (and tell again) where’s the one place employees should always go to innovate – don’t make it hard!
  • Stir the Pot: Include dashboards that show the top contributors by name for the past week or best performing region or group – this peaks everyone’s attention.
  • Make it fun: Include fun challenges too – it doesn’t have to be all business.
  • Cheer On:  Everyone IS an innovator – really! We have fun innovation style quizzes employees can take to learn more about their approach to innovation.
  • No Seams: Ensure the user experience is seamless in every way between the innovation management platform and all other workplace tools.
  • Keep the Lights On: Finally, and most importantly, make sure you don’t keep employees in the dark about their idea submissions. Communicate regularly and often around the status of their idea submissions and as well final outcomes that everyone can celebrate.

Creating a successful innovation program takes very specific planning – as does executing it and keeping it running. The reward for this effort grows exponentially as your innovation team and enterprise adapt and develop more and more winning ideas, and create a culture of innovation focused on continuous improvement.