As organizations search for better solutions to their everyday problems, many are encouraging employees to use their experiences to develop new ideas and play a more active role in the innovation process. Companies including AT&T Inc., Google Inc., and Deutsche Telekom AG have turned to what’s known as internal crowdsourcing. Although external crowdsourcing, which solicits ideas from consumers, suppliers, and anyone who wants to participate, has been widely studied, internal crowdsourcing, which seeks to channel the ideas and expertise of the company’s own employees, is less well-understood. However, as the authors point out, harnessing the cognitive diversity within organizations can open up rich new sources of innovation while at the same time engaging younger employees and people working on the front lines.
In this article, the authors examine the benefits of internal crowdsourcing and the common roadblocks to participation, collaboration, and implementation; they draw on their research at a number of companies, including a health care company, a telecommunications company, and fashion and retail company Li & Fung Ltd. The authors present a set of action steps to help executives make their internal crowdsourcing efforts more effective. Those steps include: (1) keeping the focus broadly on long-term innovation rather than short-term problem-solving; (2) giving employees slack time to participate; (3) allowing for anonymous participation; and (4) making sure experts within the company don’t exert too much influence. The authors also recommend that companies encourage collaboration, use technology platforms that connect individuals with ideas from other participants, and have well-defined procedures for how ideas will be handled after the crowdsourcing event. “Although companies are accustomed to giving recognition to teams who submit winning solutions, they don’t always offer clear criteria to guide the process or take the time to follow up with employees who don’t win,” the authors write. “But these efforts can pay big dividends in terms of driving future participation and generating better solutions later on.”