10 Genius Examples Of How To Encourage Employee Innovation

In increasingly fluid and unstable markets, even established businesses must become agile and have an eye on innovation opportunities.

One great advantage of legacy companies is the number of employees. Each with the potential to help transform the business with their ideas.

Companies often settle for simple, high-powered rewards (e.g. financial) for employee ideas, but research has shown this to be ineffective in the long run. It results in high quantity, but not quality of ideas. Very few then actually result in breakthrough concepts, de-motivating employees, lowering efforts and killing inspired thinking.

What’s the best way to engage, encourage and sustain employee innovation input, and attract well thought-out ideas?

We’ve selected 10 companies who set great examples. Who thought outside the box and reaped real success from their employees in the innovation game.


1. Amazon

Amazon’s internal website for employees features a virtual idea box. Just like the age-old suggestion box, this gives employees an easily accessible place to submit ideas big and small when they come to mind.

This was the place one of their greatest innovations was submitted, by software engineer Charlie Ward. He simply suggested there should be free shipping, an idea which was later developed into the highly successful Prime program.

2. 3M

3M have a tradition of telling stories and passing them onto new employees of famous failures that went on to create breakthrough products. Examples include the infamous post-it note story*.

Eliminating fears of failure is a huge barrier to overcome when encouraging innovative thinking.

They also invest greatly in promising talent with a variety of centres and forums to nurture innovative thinking.

*When 3M scientist Spencer Silver created a glue too weak for his goal of an adhesive for plane manufacturing, he called it a “solution without a problem”. But colleague Art Fry realized it was perfect for his seemingly trivial problem of losing his bookmark in his hymnbook at church. The post-it note was born, and in 2009 generated revenues of $3.47billion for one 3M division.

3. NBCUniversal

NBCUniversal have a corporate university named Talent Lab, with a six-month DRIVE program designed for senior leaders. They are challenged with rethinking the industry’s business model, visit their incubator in Silicon Valley and along the way learn about new mindsets and strategic frameworks.

NBCUniversal understand that if senior management lead by example, it’s much more likely that innovative thinking will be actively present at every level of the company.

4. Westin Hotels

Westin hotels send their top five innovators off on all expenses paid exotic holidays. This is done every quarter, making it a highly attainable reward.

It keeps inline with the service the company provides, and incentivises employees to be thinking innovatively all year round, and not just before one time of the year.

5. Haier

Instead of providing hefty financial rewards, Haier offer the employees of great ideas probably the ultimate recognition, by naming the final products after them.

In Haier’s language they call this scheme “makers”. Having your name as a ‘stamp’ on a product surely ensures ideas are well thought out and something they are genuinely proud to be representing.

6. Zipcar

Zipcar recently made a quick change from desktop to mobile.

Employees were handed sledgehammers and told to destroy desktop computers, creating a poignant experience and symbolising the seriousness of the shift.

They followed up with regular “member roundtables”. Millennials (their new target customer) are invited to share their needs, experiences and feedback, shaping a mindset for innovating for this demographic.

7. Spacesaver

A leader in commercial storage and shelving, Spacesaver began putting up giant posters of their products in use by various customers. This included the huge storage system used by the Field Museum in Chicago to store dinosaur bones and fossils.

This gave every employee the often missed line of sight from innovation to end product and customer experience, motivating behavior daily.

8. Intuit

Intuit take a more unorthodox approach to encouraging innovative thinking, by hosting a company-wide awards ceremony with a “failure award”. This is awarded to the team whose idea ultimately failed but provided the business with the most valuable learnings.

Hugh Molotsi, serial innovator and vp of of the Intuit Labs Incubator strongly believes in making failure acceptable and expected, but not a barrier. “More value is created through innovation than through invention” he says.

9. Penn Medicine

Penn’s “Your Big Idea” Innovation Tournament invite the entire company workforce to take part and submit or simply rate ideas. Teams create pitches ready for the tournament, and winning ideas are funded and piloted by an implementation team, including the people originally responsible for the idea.

They’ve generated huge engagement from across the company, with the first ever tournament received over 1,700 ideas and 66,000 idea ratings and comments.

10. DWP

The UK Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) use a gamification platform to encourage ideas from employees. Points can be gained from submitting suggestions and invested in more promising ideas, with the ideas developing further resulting in more points.

While it seems the intangible rewards might not have as much of an effect, Idea Street was highly successful, reaching around 4500 users after only 18 months of launching, and generated approx. 1400 ideas, with 63 of these moved to the implementation phase.


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