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A World Of Ideas: Scaling Innovation Projects Globally

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Problem-solving is critical in business today. But for large organisations, with employees located all over the world, embedding a programme for innovation and change is particularly challenging. How do you achieve buy-in on a global scale?

Problem-centric thinking

At Pollen8, our passion is helping corporate organisations harness the potential of their people to solve their most important problems. A recent project with technology communications giant Vodafone was hugely rewarding because of its lofty ambitions, long-distance reach and tricky timing.

We’ve supported Vodafone through the implementation of an innovation programme that engaged and inspired colleagues in France, Turkey, Kenya, India, Australia, in fact, 19 different markets.

This enabled Vodafone to reach over 3,000 potential innovators globally and collect over 1,000 solutions, despite the disruptions of COVID-19. The final stage has successfully incubated 25 winning ideas. So how did we do it?

Enabling staff, engaging staff

Organisations don’t like to talk about problems, yet a good problem should sit at the heart of any innovation.

Addressing this head on, Vodafone took the step to give its employees the opportunity to tap into problem-centric thinking and submit ideas for change within the company. The 10-week long programme was called Launchpad, and it aimed to mobilise Vodafone’s people to affect change directly.

Specifically, Vodafone wanted to drive activity around its ‘Purpose Pillars’, consisting of three key areas: Inclusion for all, Planet, and Digital Society.

Empowering so many individuals to begin thinking of themselves as innovators drove huge engagement throughout the organisation, and worked really well in surfacing valuable ideas from which Vodafone can now begin to benefit.

Crucially the programme included a structured review process for all submissions, and an idea incubation phase, where we helped 25 ‘winning idea owners’ develop their solutions further and prove their potential.

Driving endorsement

How was the global nature of this mammoth project managed? Launchpad’s success was dependent on securing buy-in across all levels of the business – from leadership to management, to employees submitting their ideas.

The grassroots needed to believe in the process, and at the same time, the project required the leadership team to fully champion it in every region.

This required a bespoke system in which the innovation programme could scale up to reach people in 19 markets, combined with a clear direction and transparency around how ideas would progress once submitted.

Underpinning everything was the Pollen8 platform. It enabled a unified and systematic way to submit and review ideas, and to encourage Vodafone employees to interact by commenting and voting on submissions.

It made the programme a truly interactive, digital experience, breaking down geographical barriers and enabling participation from every Vodafone region.

Understanding adoption behaviour

Beyond the benefits of a robust, digital platform, I would say a winning strategy for Vodafone was setting up an extensive global network of over 30 innovation champions.

These included local market experts participating in the review process. These champions were the go-to sources of information and were responsible for driving the visibility of the programme in each of their regions.

The effectiveness of Launchpad also wouldn’t have been the same without really impactful branding, and without Vodafone’s commitment to driving a high-profile internal communications campaign to boost engagement.

Overcoming lockdown

An unforeseen challenge was having to pivot to deliver this major project virtually. Vodafone went into lockdown just a week before the launch of this innovation programme.

Along with the rest of the world, our meetings quickly became Zoom based, and our processes had to adapt to the rapidly changing circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite this additional challenge, Launchpad became one of Pollen8’s most successful innovation programmes to date, giving testament to the purely digital approach adopted from the start.

Six months later, we moved into the incubation stage of the programme. Interactive incubation workshops, typically held in person, were pivoted to digital. Each workshop was carefully curated to mimic the real-life experience as much as possible, and we have seen innovators from 19 different markets develop their ideas together in real-time.

One clear benefit of this being that no long-haul flights were needed for everyone to collaborate, helping Vodafone stay true to its sustainability agenda.

Bringing innovation out of the bunker

For me, innovation isn’t about technology, it’s about great people and their ideas. Most problems organisations face today are too complex to be solved by lone geniuses or mercurial innovators.

Innovation takes engaged people with different skills to collaborate effectively in meaningful ways to create real change.

No matter how large the organisation, keeping innovation siloed is dangerous. If you have a diverse, international workforce, give them a voice and the tools to drive change. Show them how their ideas could make a difference on a global scale. There’s nothing more empowering than that.

Sophie Cavanagh is director of consulting at Pollen8.

Sophie Cavanagh
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