There is no shortage of horror stories about companies being disrupted and left behind. These events have created a constant buzz around innovation. Yet, many leaders don’t know how to define and implement it for their companies. Some companies have enough potential upside that they can develop innovation centers that have the sole objective of ‘innovating.’ But if that is not a realistic investment for your company or department there are still ways you can reap the rewards of innovation without the multi-million dollar budget.
Let’s start with why you should care about innovating:
- People expect more from your business – regardless of what industry you are in
- One leader simply cannot keep apprised of all changing needs and possible solutions
- Innovative and creative leaps are as important to business success as continuous improvement
- Encouraging employees to innovate helps foster employee engagement
Hacking Your Way to Innovation
For one of our clients, we’ve hosted quarterly ‘hackathons’ over the past few years. Nearly a dozen team members participate, mostly developers. The following are some insights that we have gained from the experience:
- Business Grounding is Key. Have your primary business owner meet with the team and share some of the most pervasive business challenges and opportunities.
- Empower Participants. Give the team a lot of latitude to experiment and change directions.
- Recruit Outsiders. Bring in an outsider from another department to spark some fresh ideas.
- Location, Location, Location. Move them away from their normal desks. For example, we have our client share a conference room stocked with a lot of pizza, Mountain Dew, and chocolate.
- Create a Time Box. Establish a set timeframe – one that doesn’t negatively impact the business, but gives them enough time to actually build some prototypes. We usually set aside a week.
- Make Time to Make a Case. Enable team members to present prototypes directly to leadership, a business partner, or whomever might turn into a champion of a new project. Requiring our team to think about how to ‘sell’ an idea has helped them refine their business acumen and concentrate on delivering something to share.
You might be wondering what was the result of our hackathons. Over the past three years, we’ve inspired a number of new projects, and once our business partners got a chance to see the actual prototypes they were made a high priority. We’ve tackled challenges like dramatically reducing call handle times in the contact center by modernizing legacy applications; reducing costly process waste by integrating with third-party vendors; and demonstrating how we could enhance the customer experience with integrated chatbots.
Hackathons are a practical way to introduce creativity and innovation to your company with a minimal investment. All you need are some business challenges and some smart, passionate people.
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