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Employee Engagement, Human Resources

Need to Ignite Innovation? Try Holding Employee Innovation Contests

By Elizabeth Magill , April 10th, 2018

Is innovation a commodity that’s sorely lacking in your business organization? In a rapidly evolving marketplace, there’s no doubt that innovation is necessary for growing your business and keeping up with the competition. However, after years of recession, cuts, and other financial issues in many businesses, creativity, motivation, and innovation may be difficult for some companies to foster. That’s where employee innovative contests can make a huge difference.

Why Hold Employee Innovation Competitions?

Contests breed competition and competition in numbers can be fierce. But what about throwing a contest for your own employees? Instead of advertising a contest with a big cash reward for the public, save the money and put it back into your talented employees,” the TRIZ Journal, an online innovation resource, advises. “Use their knowledge to grow the company… . When employees feel supported, they are free to swim in creativity and help the bottom line of an organization.”

For years, competitions for innovation have led to some major marketplace innovations. Big businesses hold them and make them nationwide to capitalize on a global pool of talent. These large global competitions require a great deal of capital in order to host however. They are willing to pay the price because the results are generally spectacular. The problem is that the average small business can never hope to match the prizes they’re putting up. But fortunately, there are alternatives that even small businesses can choose in order to cash in on so they too can spark innovation among their employees.

While innovative opportunities come from external sources, like customers, competing products, and suppliers, over 50 percent of an enterprise’s innovation opportunities have internal origins, according to Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich, both of which are professors at the Wharton School.

What You Need to Know Before Hosting Your Contest

  • Create a prize that employees will find attractive. Depending on the competition it can be a major cash prize, extra time off work, free casual days, or even simple bragging rights. But, it must be something people in your company want if you’re serious about drumming up interest and participation. Of course, not all employees are in it for the prize; some just want bragging rights while others participate for the sheer thrill of problem solving.
  • Make the terms clear. Is this a person by person exercise or do you want to divide up into teams to come up with ideas? The more individuals or groups you have competing, the more ideas you’ll have coming your way. What are the rules for the completion and the limitations of the innovations? People need clearly defined parameters in order to come up with creative and innovative ideas that are also plausible in your business situation.
  • Consider multiple prizes. Are you willing to award multiple prizes if you find multiple ideas worth pursuing from the contest offerings? Sometimes people are more inclined to do their best work if they realize there’s more than one shot of winning. They may feel as though they have little chance at taking the one award but if there are three or five different awards and/or prized being offered, then their odds are greatly improved that they could have one of the winning ideas.

Benefits Beyond the Contest

Believe it or not, the benefits of a contest like this, especially if you manage a high participation rate from your employees, is that you’ve jump started the creative thought process, let employees know that you are listening to the suggestions they make, and you’ve opened the door to even more innovative ideas in the future. Don’t underestimate the power of a little competition among colleagues either. Your business will be the one raking in the rewards of their competitive natures.

If you’re sincerely searching for a great way to bring out the creative best in your employees, there are few things that are more effective than a competition such as this for doing so—and you’ll get to reap the rewards well beyond the end of the contests.


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