Google has "20 percent time." Other businesses have hackathons. Sometimes the best ideas come from the the grassroots level of a company. But how do you empower employees to act on their inspiration while still keeping a strong overall direction? You bake it into your company's structure.
The Harvard Business Journal profiled two companies that make it a priority to empower workers to stretch a bit:
P&G established a "Corporate Innovation Fund" (CIF) that provides seed capital to ideas that do not have a natural organizational owner. They target the "homeless" ideas within their organization. The CIF also plays a pivotal role in assembling the right team to take charge of the selected ideas. They identify and assemble the right mix of skills, "fishing" across P&G's units. CIF investments are made independently of the traditional budget cycle, which saves high-risk ideas from competing for funds with more mainstream and easily justifiable projects.
Samsung Electronics has taken a similar approach. They have established a Value Innovation Program (VIP) Center ... anyone with an idea can pitch it to the VIP Center and on average around 90 projects cycle through each year. If an idea is selected, the VIP provides organizational protection and a home to nourish it in the initial stage. Like P&G's CIT, the VIP plays a pivotal role in assembling an innovation team composed of engineers, designers and marketers, who are supported part-time by the Center's Specialists, who are expert in the tools and processes of strategic innovation and customer research.
These "homeless" ideas are like any other investment. Sometimes, they are duds, but other times they can result in new revenue centers. In today's entrepreneurial climate, it's easier than ever to find early stage investment while cloud technology has made it exceedingly cheap to start a business. Empower your employees to use your resources and they'll be entrepreneurial within your company, instead.
Photo credit: iStock photo.
Sean Blanda is the associate editor and producer of 99u.com.