Designing a Bounty Program for Innovators

By Kelsey Alpaio |  December 30, 2019

What role should quick wins play in your innovation or R&D portfolio? That’s the question we set out to answer with a survey and a set of qualitative interviews for our research report: Quick Wins: Data and Case Studies on Delivering Results Fast.

Below is one of the case studies from the report with Gwenn Peters, InnoLead at Rockwell Automation. Headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisc., Rockwell Automation sells hardware and software related to industrial automation, safety, and digital transformation. The company has 23,000 employees and $6.7 billion in annual revenues.

InnoLead members can access the full 40+ page report, which includes 15 other case studies, here. Not a member? Learn more about joining, or become a registered user to access a limited number of free articles. 

What is the Quick Win?

[We] launched a reverse-pitch “bounty” program, an empowering, Wild-West themed vehicle for on-going, internal innovation. … It got started to complement other programs we had in place. We had been doing Shark Tanks for a few years and had a lot of success around that. There was a Global Innovation Challenge being done across the company. But those were very event-based and very competitive. …

Some people would rather do anything but stand in an auditorium and talk in front of a bunch of people and give a pitch. So [the bounty] program is a complement to that. It’s not competitive. It’s not event-based. It’s evergreen, it’s continually going, and it’s a lower amount of effort with respect to something like a Shark Tank, where you’re curating an idea from scratch and developing a brand new business case. … And so bounty is about 20 to 40 hours a person with a team of around two to four people. It’s kind of a quick win program. Once a team has signed up, they get three months [to work on the bounty] with no competition. …

The ideas for the bounties can come from a variety of sources. They can come from problems identified in our annual employee engagement survey. Very often it comes from one-on-one conversations with employees about what their pain points are in their day job. And it can also come from leadership when they identify a roadblock in the way that we’re working. …

A deadline is immediately set once that team is formed. It hasn’t happened yet, but should a team fail to meet their deadline or fail to make significant progress by the deadline, we could open up the bounty for another team to work on it. It is completely voluntary, and the teams form based on whether it’s a topic they want to learn more about, topics they have expertise on, or just people they want to work with or get exposure to [so they can] grow their network.

Gwenn Peters, InnoLead at Rockwell Automation.

And all of the rewards, we have a program called Bravo, [which is] a point-based rewards program where you can have a bank account of Bravo points that then you can turn in for travel or shopping in the marketplace. So each bounty has a reward attached, and then the team splits that reward evenly.

The other big difference between this and something like a Shark Tank is that Shark Tanks tend to be very product-focused, and bounty for the most part is about process innovation. It doesn’t mean it’s entirely internal, because sometimes our processes are still customer- facing, and our customers can benefit from that. But about 80 percent of our bounties have been around process innovation. 

Who Was Involved?

My boss, me, and two of my peers.

What Was the Timeframe?

We first conceived of it in November 2017. We launched it in February 2018. 

What Were the Metrics or Objectives?

When we launched the program, we had 21 bounties. …We kind of just crossed our fingers, because we didn’t know how it would be perceived. And it was a raging success. In two days we had 11 teams sign up. The same organization that was complaining when they had to do a Shark Tank was very excited for this different format. …

[We’re measuring] participation levels and completed bounties. We also measure how many of our global regions have participated…the number of businesses or functions participating across the company. We had one particular bounty that was set to save 13,000 engineering hours a year. So we actually did go through and measure the potential savings from that one. But most of these, we didn’t want to burden the team with measuring financial impact. We wanted to kind of keep it fun. And because it is a quick win thing, and doesn’t really need a lot of resources to maintain, we haven’t been asked to justify the program. It has this cult following and everybody recognizes it provides benefits.

We haven’t really gone too far into impact metrics. Certainly, on our annual employee engagement survey, we’re looking whether the organizations participating in bounty are increasing their engagement score.

How Did You Communicate Outcomes?

I think the way we’ve communicated it was part of its success. When we launched it, we had a virtual board that we managed on Microsoft Teams. … But we also have physical boards in the main office areas, imagine a bulletin board with a bunch of wanted posters on it.

[We announce new sets of bounties during quarterly meetings]. So in every quarterly meeting when we’re launching a new set of bounties, we show up in Wild West sheriff costumes. … And it’s actually something that we’ve found translates pretty well globally. …

We do keep a quarterly cadence of releasing a new batch of bounties every quarter. We recognize in that same quarterly meeting any bounties that have been completed within the last quarter, and we give [participants] a [fake] bounty hunter’s license. …

We also try to keep all the red tape very simple. When the team forms, they have an email of a “sheriff” that they can reach out to for coaching if they need it. But it’s very hands- off. The teams work independently for those three months. They can reach out if they have questions, but there’s not a lot of hand- holding. At the end, it’s just a short 20-minute presentation to the business leaders on their accomplishments. And then if needed, if they’re creating new processes, we ask them to train the organization on the new process and document it. But we try to keep it pretty simple, because there’s a lot of people that aren’t into big presentations and being in front of groups.

How Did This Fit Into Your Overall Strategy? 

Innovation is one of our core values. … One of the topics that comes up a lot in our annual employee engagement survey is that our company has so many barriers to execution … In one sentence, Bounty is a program we’ve created to tackle barriers to execution. …

The next stage is that we are launching company-wide bounties, so bounties that aren’t specific to any given group, but that anyone across the entire company globally can work on. … We have an online platform that’s going to help crowdsource with respect to the business needs. And we look at it as kind of like the Uber model or the TaskRabbit model for internal process innovation participation. … So direct matching of the business needs to the motivated talent. 

InnoLead members can access the full 40+ page report, which includes 15 other case studies, here. Not a member? Learn more about joining here, or become a registered user to access a limited number of free articles.