Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Building an Innovation Community: Pitney Bowes's Employee Innovation Community Demonstrates the Types of Results Managers Can Expect from a Thoughtfully Designed and Implemented Innovation Community and Illustrates Design Principles and Key Success Factors

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Building an Innovation Community: Pitney Bowes's Employee Innovation Community Demonstrates the Types of Results Managers Can Expect from a Thoughtfully Designed and Implemented Innovation Community and Illustrates Design Principles and Key Success Factors

Article excerpt

Companies are increasingly using social media to open participation in innovation to nontraditional actors, both inside and outside the organization. Recently, as the flattening of organizations and rapidly changing competitive environments increase the need for companies to innovate at an accelerated pace, many companies have begun exploring the use of online communities to tap the intellectual capital of their employees. These changes have prompted organizations to try different technologies for collaboration, including blogs and microblogging tools, wikis, virtual project rooms, and idea management systems. Sometimes these technologies survive and add value. Frequently, they fall into disuse.

Whether a technology persists or not depends on how well it supports the work to be done and fits the corporate culture. All too often, work is designed around technology rather than the other way around. To build sustainable communities, managers need to view technology as an enabler and focus the effort on taking a participatory and iterative approach to build a system that reflects the needs and values of stakeholders at all levels in the organization. The key to success is a human-centered approach. Methods from anthropology, design, and action research can help managers to design systems that take into account the way people actually work.

The Pitney Bowes Employee Innovation Community represents an example of how managers can take advantage of these new forms of collaboration and implement technology in a way that sticks. To create community at Pitney Bowes, the program team took deliberate steps to engage the participation of stakeholder groups across the organizational hierarchy. This involvement meant that the resulting community not only reflected the perspectives of these very diverse groups, but also had shared ownership. These factors enhanced the results and sustainability of the program.

The Employee Innovation Program

Like many companies, Pitney Bowes realizes the best thinking can come from anywhere in the organization, and in 2008 the CEO set out a vision to engage employees in innovation, specifically using an innovation community. The idea surfaced in response to an internal audit of innovation and product-management practices that revealed barriers to innovation across the enterprise. The mission of the new Employee Innovation Program was to engage all employees in innovation, to facilitate organic growth and process improvements, and to foster a culture of innovation through changes in behavior.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The community is called IdeaNet, and activity is structured around online brainstorms, or "idea challenges," which take place over a 3-4 week period and engage anywhere from 600 to 30,000 employees. Challenge topics are framed around real business issues and sponsored by the business leader accountable for developing and implementing the solution. While challenges often target specific employee groups, a fundamental principle of the community is its emphasis on openness; therefore, most challenges are accessible to and visible by all employees who visit the site. The expectation is that contributions will come from all employees, from frontline workers to middle managers to senior leadership, including the CEO. This participation model creates situations where a manager may act in the community as an idea contributor one day, and as a challenge sponsor on another day.

In its first two years post-pilot, IdeaNet received close to 3,000 ideas posted to 52 idea challenges and generated a portfolio of 874 ideas adopted by the business units, ranging from quick-win process improvements to concepts now in longer-term development (Figure 1). While participation remained steady across both years, the second year saw fewer ideas adopted by project teams, a healthy result of a more refined focus in selecting ideas and a more realistic evaluation of the resources available to implement ideas. …

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