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What is an Employee Innovation Network? Why Should You Care?

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As Innovation Program leaders look to expand their scope and
influence across complex, global organizations, they are turning to the
development of Employee Innovation Networks. This article examines what these
networks can look like, and provides some high level overview of the value that
they can generate.
In the past five years or so large corporate organizations have
jumped headfirst into the innovation space. Over this time they have taken on
an ever-increasing scope of activities, in order to create new ideas and
generate broad organizational impact. Activities such as innovation challenges,
action learning teams, incubators / accelerators, etc. are now well established
and understood within many Fortune 500 organization.
Now that these organizations have been running innovation-centric activities for sometime, company leadership is examining their
investment and demanding more leveraged value and impact. In short, innovation
programs and their activities are often not producing the desired level of
return or impact, and so leadership is asking for more, often with fewer
resources.
Based on this increasing sophistication in the understanding
of corporate innovation, leadership are now considering how they can develop an
innovative culture within their organization. This is reflected in the types of
activities being undertaken, but also in the presentations and agenda at
conferences such as the Back End of Innovation in Las Vegas (October 6-8th)
Innovation programs
and their activities are often not producing the desired results, so leadership
is demanding more leveraged value and impact.
As a response, innovation program leaders and managers have
been looking for mechanisms that unify and leverage their existing activities,
as well as provide a more consistent presence for their program over time. To
achieve these objectives, increasingly the response has been to develop
employee innovation networks.
Approaches to employee innovation networks vary by company,
but as a general rule employees are given a new designation (e.g. Innovation
Catalyst, Super User, Champion, etc.) and innovation centric resources and
activities are directed towards them. It is important to note that this new
title is often in addition to employee's existing day-to-day roles. How
employees become members of these networks changes by the company, as does the
strategic goals and objectives.

These networks range in approach, depth and value generated,
but they are all designed with the following results and benefits in mind:
'        
Further engage employees within the organization
that want to provide innovative thinking
'        
Provide an opportunity to leverage the impact of
small innovation programs across large, globally disbursed organizations
'        
In the short term, provide a pool of employees
that can be directed towards existing innovation activities, in order to spur
interest and positive results
'        
In the longer term, this pool of employees can
be directed to achieving specific innovation tasks, such as the generating and
executing new ideas, in order to enhance ROI across the innovation program
'        
In the even longer term, provide a broad base of
employees that can be used to help enhance and shape the culture of the
organization
'        
For some organizations, often when they are
process oriented, identify and nurture employees who may not fit within the
standard success model, but are capable of generating value for the
organization
Part of the value of
developing a strategic approach is recognizing that networks require resources,
focus and flexibility to the shifting priorities and goals of the organization.
Before going down the path of building an employee network,
it is important to develop a strategic framework. Part of the value in this
approach is to not only provide ongoing direction and support, but also to
recognize that networks require resources, focus and flexibility to the
shifting priorities and goals of the organization. Accordingly when developing
a well-structured framework the following perspectives need to be considered
(amongst other more detailed points):
'        
What is the goal of the network? ' There is no
point in doing this unless some sort of tangible result is achieved (e.g.
Improved employee engagement, more innovative activity, increased idea
execution, more ideas generated, etc.)? How could / should those goals change
over time?
'        
What is the network member profile? ' What
defines individuals as members? How do they become a members (is it awarded to
them or do they self select)?
'        
What is the benefit for members? ' Why would
employees spend the time and energy becoming a network member?
'        
What resources and / or activities can you
realistically dedicate to managing and growing this network? ' What is already
in place that can be directed to these individuals? What vendor related
resources or activities can be directed towards network members?
Organizations such as Wells FargoQualcommIntuitPfizerWhirlpoolGE,
etc. already have these employee networks in place and they are being utilized
in ways that generate significant benefits to each organization.
Networks should not be
viewed as simple or short term activities.
Of course, in this article I am just skimming the surface of
successfully developing and supporting these networks. Make no mistake, this
should not be viewed as a simple or short term activity, but rather a
longer-term force for change and cultural impact across your organization.
Should you take a short-term perspective, there is a real risk that the effort
will disenfranchise your employees, causing negative knock-on impacts to other activities
that your program may operate. This kind of activity can have huge positive
benefits for your program, but can also have negative consequences if handled
incorrectly or with the wrong perspective. That said, the benefits to these
efforts can be enormous and exciting.
So have a think about it and, as always, please feel free to
reach out to me with any questions.

About the Author:
Anthony Ferrier is the CEO of Culturevate (www.culturevateinc.com),
an organization that empowers a company's employees to execute ideas and
inspire a culture of innovation, through employee networks, a resource portal
and training programs (developed in association with Professor
Chris Labash
 from Carnegie
Mellon University
). Anthony is a widely read author (www.culturevateinc.com), speaker and
advisor to industry leaders at organizations such as Pfizer, U.S. Postal
Service, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and Fidelity. He previously led The BNY
Mellon innovation program and has a Masters of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of
Economics (University of Newcastle
).

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