This is a guest post by Tim Kippley, Geneca Vice President, Account Strategy and Growth. In this post, Tim shares one of the experiments Geneca is running to give its people opportunities to explore new ideas. So far, so good. It is a journey and I hope we can follow Geneca's path of experimenting-learning-applying-iterating and learn for ourselves.
By Tim Kippley:
Jeff Bezos, one of the planet’s greatest innovators, once said that: “You need a culture that high-fives small and innovative ideas and senior executives [that] encourage ideas.”
The Value of Innovation at Geneca
I have long felt that companies can’t survive without innovating. Fortunately, I work at an organization (a custom software development firm) that also views innovation as basic to our growth:
- It reinforces our company culture and promotes deeper Genecian engagement;
- It enhances our brand by allowing us to do more good within our communities and deliver more value to our clients;
- It improves the ability of our recruiting team to attract creative, out-of-the-box thinkers;
- And it drives growth by generating ideas that require new capabilities with the potential to create additional sources of revenue, whether direct or indirect.
During 2012, creating a process for internal innovation moved to our priority list. Because the culture at Geneca encourages personal and professional development and there was buy-in from the leadership team, the preconditions for innovation already were in place.
The Innovation Group is Born
The innovation initiative was born from our Organizational Growth Team, a cross-functional internal team formed in 2011 to focus on investing in Genecians, evolving our capabilities, and predictably delivering value to clients.
Early in 2012, the team created ideas to impact each of these areas and voted on innovation as the common denominator. The team then hosted a brainstorming event with the entire company on how to encourage innovation at Geneca. From this we developed an action plan for the year, starting with the development of a charter statement for our new innovation initiative:
Innovation Charter: The innovation initiative is to foster a culture of innovation, creativity, and teamwork within Geneca. Geneca’s pledge is to support this initiative in the form of time (e.g. providing time-codes to track innovation work), environment (e.g. space and tools that help drive innovation), and mindset (e.g. encourage Genecians to change the physics and challenge the perceived norms)
Our next step was kicking off our first Innovation Challenge.
The First Geneca Innovation Challenge
The first Geneca Innovation Challenge was divided into two events, an Innovation Meet-up followed by an innovation “Shark Tank” event for finalists.
The Meet-up was modeled after "Startup Weekend," the global grassroots for active entrepreneurs looking for feedback, knowledge, and support to launch successful ventures. Each of the 15 participating Genecians had about 3 minutes to pitch their idea. Each attendee had five votes to use on one or more of the ideas. Although we did not specify the number of finalists, six finalists clearly emerged.
There were no specific criteria posted for this event – purposefully. We wanted this event to ignite enthusiasm and increase overall engagement within Geneca. We wanted people to use their own criteria in voting for the ideas that they thought were the coolest, most fun and engaging, even if the idea had nothing to do with our business.
From social media tools to business process gamification to digital wallets, we received over a dozen great ideas. Six innovations moved on to the Shark Tank:
- Internal recognition and award tracking system called GRIT (Geneca Recognition Instilment Tool);
- iPhone app for drinking establishments to scan and detect alcohols level according to bottle size;
- GPS augmented reality game;
- CrowdLunching application for local lunch deliveries;
- Online tool to retrieve documents and track changes for project documents;
- Digital wallet with QR payments.
Once in the Shark Tank, the requirements become more specific.
Bring in the Shark Tank
Geneca’s executive team met to discuss the objectives and criteria for the Shark Tank. We made a clear decision to emphasize the positive aspects of each presentation and to encourage the finalists to continue working on their ideas. We also told those not selected that it wasn't the end of Geneca's support -- they would continue to receive help and coaching if they wanted to further develop their ideas. They had the option to resubmit at the next innovation event.
Next, the executive team defined the criteria for evaluating the ideas:
- Is the idea cool, fun, and/or does it provide learning opportunities for Genecians?
- What is the potential for monetizing the idea? If not, are there nontangible benefits to Geneca?
- Does this support/enhance the Geneca brand? (If not, it must be higher on the monetization side)
- What is the overhead (cost of support/resources)?
After the criteria was defined, the Innovation Team met with each finalist individually to discuss the highlights of their idea and business plan. Each finalist was expected to cover the following areas during their presentation:
- Business Description (including the walk-thru /"day in the life" of the idea, etc.)
- Market Analysis and Customers
- Competitive Landscape
- The Company
- Marketing Strategy
- Sales Strategy
- Financial Projections – including cost to develop/build
- Operational Strategy
- Mgmt. / Ownership
The executive team conducted multiple one-on-one sessions with the finalists, coaching them on their business plan. One unforeseen benefit was that each finalist really got the opportunity to learn what’s involved in developing a business and gained an appreciation for the strategic effort that goes into growing an idea into a business. Not only did each finalist feel that this was a really positive experience, the excitement spread within Geneca as well.
And the Winner Is … GRIT
In order to set expectations, the executive team made it clear that there was a possibility that we would choose none of the ideas -- or at most just one.
That said, the executive team selected one idea to support and develop, an internal recognition tracking application called GRIT. GRIT was clearly strong on fun, cool, and learning. Plus, it did a great job supporting Geneca’s brand and core value of giving and receiving feedback.
What’s Next for the Geneca Innovation Group
As the group matures, we hope to get more Genecians involved from all areas of the organization. Maybe someone on the marketing team can help the innovator come up with a marketing plan; our financial folks can help the innovator create a Proforma; etc.
As we become more innovative in how we think about our innovation process, we plan to make small adjustments to the ideation and evaluation process. We’ve already discussed alternating between entirely "open" ideation and more guided innovation challenges directly aligned with Geneca's brand.
We also intend to continue our discussion of providing support for ideas not directly aligned with Geneca by developing partnerships with incubators in Chicago. We’d look to the incubator to further sponsor ideas originating from Genecians. Additional support turning great ideas into actual products can play a big part in strengthening our innovation engine.
Based on the energy surrounding our first Shark Tank, we’re all excited about the prospect of creating a sustainable structure that gives us a way to support and reward innovation within Geneca.