Running Challenges in a continuous cycle is a highly effective way to align individual motivation with organizational goals. In this article we’re going to cover some of the basics of Challenges, and then look into each of the steps of this cycle.
Planview IdeaPlace Challenges allow you to pose a question to your entire organization or some subset of the organization around an impactful topic. This question could be quite broad: What should our company be in 2020? Or specific: How can we cut shipping costs by 25% this year?
And because Challenges are timely—beginning and ending on dates of your choosing—they tend to generate a lot of excitement and a high volume of Ideas.
A Challenge can optionally carry a prize or reward, i.e., for any Idea that’s been approved or gets a certain amount of support from the community. The reward creates an additional incentive for employee participation and a sense of accomplishment (or pride) for award winners. A reward, such as an Amazon gift card or new iPad, can be an effective way to create excitement; particularly in the short term. For sustained engagement over the long term, the most important factors are active and transparent decision-making and recognition.
Before the Challenge, Identify Obstacles and Goals
Find the Right Question
Finding the right question to ask your community is crucial to run an effective Challenge because this question will set the tone and provide the framework for ideation. Most importantly, the question should be something relevant and impactful to your organization, and it should have a direct relationship to your business objectives. Asking the employees of your small toy company for their ideas on how to get a rocket to the moon might be an interesting exercise, but in the end, what will have been achieved?
If you’ve already identified strategic goals, such as the mandate to cut production costs by 10% by end of year or to improve employee retention this quarter, then these goals, stated as a question, make excellent first Challenge choices.
Not sure what question to ask? If you are struggling to find the right area of focus for your innovation initiative, you can design a great starting Challenge to assess gaps in the markets that you serve or in the technology you use to serve your customers. Questions like “What are the unmet needs of our customers?,” “What markets are we not yet targeting or are we incompletely supporting?,” or “Where does our technology fall short?” will help you get a sense of where you should focus your efforts in subsequent, more solution-oriented Challenges.
Select the Challenge Owners/Roles
The goal of a Challenge is often to solve a particular problem or uncover a new opportunity, which requires decisions to be made. Finding the right owners for the Challenge is therefore crucial, as they will own the process of turning the submitted Ideas through an evaluation process, towards a decision.
See Roles and Responsibilities for a complete listing, including a chart of each role's abilities within the IdeaPlace platform, and the video below for a walkthrough of IdeaPlace roles.
Building a Challenge Team; Duration 3 min
Determine Your Goals and Measure of Success
Are you aiming to solve a business problem or come up with a new product idea? Are you looking for a certain level of engagement or trying to get feedback from a hard-to-reach team? Identify your barometer for evaluating your Challenge, and you’ll have a clear measure of success once the Challenge comes to a close.
Identify Constraints and Criteria
The best Ideas are those that show the best fitness for the environment while addressing the business goal at hand. If your budget only allows for $50,000 to take Ideas to reality, a popular Idea that will take millions to get to market is not a good fit. Looking for Ideas that can be executed by a small team in only a week? Let your community know, as constraints will not only sharpen the relevancy of the discussion, but can in fact, create a more creative environment for ideation. Additionally, by identifying and communicating constraints, the process of making decisions about submitted Ideas will be easier, as you’ll have a clear picture of which Ideas will be the best fit.
Launch the Challenge and Energize Participants
Introduce the Challenge
When launching a Challenge, a great strategy is to immediately send an Email Notification to introduce and provide context to participants. Your email should introduce the goals of the Challenge, how it fits into the organization’s strategy, any constraints and selection criteria, and the plan for achieving those goals.
Specific questions to consider addressing in the announcement email:
- Why is this Challenge important to the organization? Answering this question sets the context for the Challenge and tells users why they should be part of the conversation.
- Is the goal of the Challenge to identify a problem space, find a solution or both? Give users some direction about the type of Ideas you’re looking for, and you’ll get a greater percentage of in-scope, actionable Ideas.
- How/when will the Ideas contributed to this Challenge be moderated? Set expectations about the Challenge. Will there be a single “winning” Idea or will multiple Ideas be approved? Will you make decisions about all Ideas after the end date or as the Challenge progresses? What factors will most influence your decision-making? Setting expectations from the start will guide participants towards finding the best Ideas for you.
- What are the benefits of participation in the Challenge? Identify the incentives most appropriate to your company culture. Is your team motivated by prizes? Recognition? The opportunity to influence company strategy and direction? Show users how your organization’s goals align with their personal goals by drawing a direct line between participation and reward.
Use video to better personalize the message, even if it’s just a quick statement captured by your phone. If the problem you’re looking to solve is yours, there’s power in directly describing why it’s important to you.
Think about spreading the word about a Challenge as internal marketing.
Use Video in Your Internal Marketing
Video is a compelling way to tell the story of your Challenge. Why is it important? How does it map to the organization’s objectives? In some environments a video interview with the CEO or a high level manager will motivate employees to participate; in others, video from peers will work better.
Give Participants Feedback and Evaluate
Keep the Conversation Going
Participants who feel they’re being heard are likely to continue contributing. Moderators play a crucial role in keeping the conversation moving forward by interacting with participants and responding to their Ideas and comments.
Email Notifications are also an effective tool for motivating participation. Use them to call out particular Ideas that show potential or to give examples of how other teams or organizations addressed a similar obstacle. As a Challenge comes to a close, post a reminder that the deadline for submissions is approaching.
Schedule Moderator check-ins so Moderators can collaborate with each other and discuss any obstacles they are facing with their Challenges.
Encourage moderators to propose comments or modifications to Ideas when the Idea, as stated, shows potential but is missing an element necessary for approval.
As the Challenge progresses from the submission phase to the expert review phase, the responsibility shifts from participants to Experts. Experts will help decide which Ideas get executed and which do not, according to the Sponsor's "success criteria".
Participants want their Ideas listened to and evaluated honestly. They will understand when their Ideas are declined, as long as the evaluation process is transparent. That popular Idea about moving the bike line from steel to carbon fiber in order to reduce weight had to be declined because the associated increase in cost wouldn’t be borne by the market—Experts should share that reasoning. People will get it.
Make Decisions and Close the Loop
The objective of a Challenge, and of an Innovation Program generally, is to make decisions and turn potential ideas into action.
Closing the loop on Ideas is the secret sauce of a long-running innovation program, so don't be scared to say "no; just do it transparently and thoughtfully.
Follow Up with Challenge Results
Once you’ve responded to Idea submissions individually, paint a picture of the overall Challenge results. Did you accomplish what you set out to achieve? What’s the next step in the lifecycle of the Ideas you’ve decided to move forward with? Perhaps you’ve already implemented some Ideas and seen the positive impact of them. Use an email to tell your users how their contributions made a difference. Include video to really drive that message home.
Did this Challenge get your team the revolutionary Idea you were looking for? Now’s the time to celebrate that victory! Announce the winning Idea in an email to draw attention to the success of your innovation efforts.
Did certain participants stand out from the crowd for the quality of their Ideas or level of engagement? Take notice! Use the Insights Engagement Tab to identify star participants, then recognize their contributions with an email and a spot in your organization’s newsletter. Recognition is a powerful motivator and will help plant the seeds of engagement for your next Challenge.
Note Lessons Learned for the Next Challenge
What were the most successful elements of your recent Challenge? Was it the Post from the CEO that got people racing to contribute their ideas and vote? Was it a particular Moderator or participant who kept the conversation going? Identifying areas of success lays the groundwork for preparing your next Challenge.
Were you faced with any obstacles that prevented you from reaching your goals? Pinpointing what didn’t work is as important as identifying what did, and it will guide you towards a more effective approach to your next Challenge.
See the attached Challenge Question Examples for Challenge brainstorm ideas.