There are many ingredients to a successful innovation program, but I am always asked which one is the most important. As with a special recipe, each ingredient has its own particular purpose, but as with any recipe, there are just certain ingredients that stand out from the rest. To me, the most misunderstood and surprising ingredient is the concept of transparency. Transparency is one of the most critical factors for many reasons, but most importantly, it is what sets the tone for the entire program for those people from whom you are seeking contributions to the process. Having the element of transparency be an essential focus of the program is critical to gaining the trust of your audience, guiding idea development, and recognizing pitfalls. But living up to a promise of transparency is at times difficult. It is important to create a strategy around transparency and communication as part of the on-going process of innovation. When creating a plan around transparency, consider these three factors.
- Be Responsive -Your audience wants to hear from you. Understand that your audience wants to receive feedback as quickly as you can give it to them. Have a game plan in place to be able to respond to ideas both with constructive thoughts and status updates. Living up to the promise of assessing and responding to each idea has proven to be more important to the individual than selecting their idea for implementation.
- Let Them Be in the Know - With innovation programs, the ability to understand where critical feedback comes from is important to connecting those individuals with the questions to those individuals with the answers. Stay focused on driving the discussion and on developing the ideas so that you are in the know on what is happening with the ideas in your business. Often times, innovation programs are not directly tied to the implementation of ideas. This is typical and sometimes can be very effective as the business units are in the best position to evolve and implement ideas based on the current needs of the business. Innovation programs can play a critical role in being the liaison and the linkage between the audience and the business. Knowing what and how it is all happening and sharing that with the audience will help to gain the trust of your audience .
- Tell It Like It Is - What I have found in my experience is that most people who participate in innovation do not care as much about their ideas being implemented as much as they want to know what is happening with their ideas. It is important to tell it like it is because it will better educate the audience on the pitfalls and issues in the business. To say “Great idea, but after much research and analysis, the cost to the business is too great to invest in right now as there are other priorities such as … but we will consider this in the future as funds become more available and the priority is there” can go a long way in providing information to the community. This type of feedback will help individuals feel that their ideas were truly considered.
For each idea submitted, vote cast, or comment posted, an implicit social contract promises that someone with decision making authority will assess and respond to the idea. To develop and sustain an on-going innovation program, the concept of transparency is a critical factor in the longevity of the program. Taking the time and opportunity to develop a strategy on how and when you will respond to participants in every stage of the innovation process is important to building loyalty in the program.