By Luigi Morsa, Ph.D.
Nowadays, companies are very conscious that if they want to be competitive, they have to innovate. The conquered market shares can rapidly disappear or drastically be reduced. The only way is to keep pace, to be reactive and introduce new solutions, ideally before their competitors. It is worth quoting a sentence of the father of the Open Innovation concept, Henry Chesbrough: “Most innovation fails. And companies that don’t innovate die” .
In the complex companies’ world, as is well-known to the experts (contrary to what is broadly thought), innovation is not only linked to a new product; the innovation can be also relative to a new process, a new company asset, a new procedure, or a new business model. In a nutshell, we can agree that innovation is all about bringing improvement and efficiency; and affecting the development of a company in a positive manner.
It is also true that there are innovations with different importance, namely there exist innovations with different impacts on a company and on a market; for instance, the strongest innovations are the ones able to replace an existing market or create a new one. This leads to the fascinating economic concepts of “Creative Destruction Innovation” by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942  and “Disruptive Technologies” by Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen in 1995 .
On the other hand, a less important innovation does not really affect the old scenario but brings some benefit to the company. It is clear that a company has to focus on innovations at each level. In order to efficiently pursue this task, companies have adopted several tools, procedures and strategies that help the birth of new ideas – in addition to adopting the classical Research and Development department (especially if we are speaking about product innovation).
The ideas are clearly generated by people and therefore the companies realized that a secret to obtain as many new ideas as possible is to create the “ideal condition” to allow people to bring their contribution. One interesting way to accomplish the task is represented by the so-called “Innovation Management Software (IMS)”. This has been developing during the last two decades and it can be seen as the last evolution of the “suggestion box”, introduced more than 100 years ago and still present in some offices.
The Innovation software programs are usually conceived in a way that there is a common platform where all the users (basically employees of the company) have access and can freely leave their proposals or opinions about a possible new idea. Then, each new proposal generates an online debate or discussion with the effect to improve it. Once a certain number of ideas is reached, the selection phase starts. This is conducted by innovation project managers with the support of sector experts and business unit people. Their intent is to evaluate the feasibility from a technical and business point of view, respectively. Finally, this committee selects the ideas which are worthy of an investment .
In most cases, even though the IMS is very fascinating, a good percentage of employees are reluctant to contribute their ideas to the company. Possible reasons may be because they have not developed a sense of belonging, they simply do not believe in the company, or they think that an idea given to the company is a kind of gift without a sure repayment. In order to avoid such inefficiencies, the latest tools like IMS should be supported by an additional software that we could baptize “People Innovation (PI)”. The purpose of this article is not to give a detailed description about the software concept, but to discuss the main guidelines and benefits.
The starting point is the slight change in the philosophical approach between the IMS and People Innovation (PI). We can say that the innovation management software is based on the assumption that the main heritage of a company that wants to innovate lies on the ideas of the people of the company; therefore, the software “simply” helps the development of ideas. In the case of PI, the basis goes beyond: the main heritage of a company to innovate lies on the people of the company; therefore, the software helps people to innovate themselves and, consequently, also the company.
If the company believes in the employees, the employees feel more motivated to give their contribution to the company and, finally, to innovate.
The weak side of the IMS is, on one hand, it favors peoples’ connections and discussions to help generate ideas. On the other hand, it does not care about how an employee can develop himself or herself during this time. How can a sense of belonging or the desire to participate in the innovation process of a company be generated in employees? The answer is the following: through the idea that a company wants to take care of its employees, wants to bet on them, wants to donate a future vision and want to define professional development for them.
We can imagine that the PI software could have a special section where all the employees’ profiles are stored and for each of them, the possible career paths are shown, the courses needed to achieve some results are advised, as well as how their innovative ideas can be supported or promoted.
The other important aspect is, who are the players that ensure PI works properly? In this regard, we are talking about people in Human Resources, the project innovation managers and the line managers. All these players have to have access to the PI shell, and they have to help employees in their development in the company. In general, HR could monitor if an employee is satisfied and understand all of his/her needs, the line manager could define what can be done for their professional development and the project innovation manager could stay alert in case of new potential ideas.
The software could definitely be a powerful tool to motivate employees. One of the biggest challenges in organizational management is how to provide recognition (and possibly rewards) to workers that make a significant contribution to the business. There are two critical issues with recognition systems.
- First, not all employees are in a position where their performance can be directly related to business success. This can alienate workers who believe they are missing out on these opportunities because of their current work assignment or position.
- Second, the company must decide if the recognition will be done monetarily or non-monetarily. Believe it or not, having a diagram with the visible professional development, with the past achievements and above all with the future targets for an employee is priceless. People could believe that regular meetings with HR and managers of various kinds are enough, but they are not. Software is needed since it is important to have a visible, professional situation and clear prospects.
In conclusion, we observe that PI’s purpose is not to replace traditional innovation software management. On the contrary, PI actually completes the IMS by enlarging potential. The IMS encourages cooperation for the development of an idea, creates the useful connections and improves the concepts promoting discussions. PI accompanies and drives the employees during their stay in the company in order to find out the best way to be motivated and to better express themselves, and it creates more suitable conditions to generate ideas. It is something that a company (devout to innovation) should have and develop according to its needs.
About the Author
Luigi Morsa (Ph.D.) is an Aerospace Engineer and Project Manager working in Germany at the consultant company SII engineering & IT. Luigi’s passion for project management has led him to contribute to two books by Dr. Harold Kerzner, the pioneer and globally recognized expert in project management. More in detail, Luigi wrote the case study “The Airbus A380” and the chapter on “Innovation Management Software” for the books Project Management Case Studies, Fifth Edition (Wiley, 2017) and Innovation Project Management (Wiley, 2019), respectively. In 2018, he was a speaker at the Project Management Institute (PMI)® EMEA Congress to discuss the complexity of the aircraft-industry market, with particular emphasis on the relationship between the product and customer needs.
. Henry W. Chesbrough, “Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology”, Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
. Joseph A. Schumpeter, “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”, Harper & Brothers, 1942.
. Joseph L. Bower and Clayton M. Christensen, “Disruptive technologies: catching the wave”, Harvard Business Review, 1995.
. Harold Kerzner, “Innovation Project Management”, John Wiley & Sons, 2019.