Overview: It can be difficult to evaluate ideas, especially when they’re new and untested, as criteria such as ROI or market size can be difficult to predict. Instead, you need to create a process with clear evaluation criteria customized to your needs and properly managed expectations.
The Innovator’s Dilemma
Truly new, world-changing, radical ideas can seem outlandish when they’re first proposed or developed. For example, refrigeration uses very simple principles of physics, drawing on the different states of matter. You turn a liquid into a gas and back again to transfer heat away from a box.
Yet think about how that might sound to someone in the early 1900s, with only a layman’s grasp of the science and you might sound a bit weird. This makes ideas difficult to analyze or evaluate, and evaluation is core to innovation strategy.
Set Clear Expectations
It’s best to start with what people should expect. Very few of us get to deliver “the next iPhone”. But we do often get to deliver improvements and suggestions that make a better product or help improve the workplace.
They should also know what to expect in the process. They should know who gets a vote in the situation and what form that vote will take when you score. And which includes the final say on whether an idea is a go or a no-go.
Will their feedback determine whether an idea makes it to the next level? They should understand what’s expected when you participate in the process and why. And they should be able to track ideas every step of the way, grasp what worked, and what didn’t, and offer feedback.
Develop Both Top-Down And Bottom-Up Engagement
Innovation works best as a process when it has investment by both the c-suite and the people out in the field. This is also true of scoring and scoring criteria. This is for a few reasons. First, when people see both their leaders and peers engaging with something, they tend to want to join in. Even if it’s just picking a number scale versus a pass-fail system. Secondly, it helps to counteract shyness and make the innovation approach feel inclusive. Instead of an order handed down from one high or one group of employees outvoting the rest.
Remember Evaluation Is A Tool
We’re used to evaluation as an “if-this-then-that” system, where once the data tells us something, we take an action. And in the realm of day-to-day operations, that’s useful. It can even be effective when you’re looking at incremental innovation. Such as applying employee suggestions or adding new features to a product.
Yet it falls down in the face of innovation, as there isn’t a “this” or a “that” to apply the operators to. Evaluation needs to be considered just part of the toolkit and with different metrics. Such as votes collected or customer feedback. Those metrics should be easy to collect and offer useful information. But the focus shouldn’t be on numbers past a certain point.
Choose A Handful Of Consistent, Meaningful Criteria
When evaluating an idea, you’re often asking how it feels. So pick a small number of criteria that are meaningful to your organization. That will be consistent across the organization, and any surveys or work that you do around innovation.
A good starting point is your company’s values and principles. Asking if an idea seems to best fit those will keep them front of mind during the process and help guide people who may not be sure how else to evaluate an idea.
Remember that there are multiple kinds of values. Core values that the company was founded on. Aspirational values that the company is attempting to reach, such as climate change targets. Expected values that reflect company culture in the day-to-day workplace. And organic values ones that naturally arise from the company and take hold over time. You don’t have to try and track all of these, but it’s good to remember that all four are in play.
It also helps to put them on a simple system. For example, you might ask your employees to rate the individual principles of the company from one to five. Remember to have different criteria for different groups; customers may be better served by asking them if the idea would fit their needs or would be something they’re willing to pay for. for example. Your accounting department may need to weigh in on whether you can fund the idea in the first place.
Create A Funnel
One method of evaluation that can help is by creating a funnel with increasingly stricter criteria and smaller groups judging those criteria. For example, you might start with a platform that welcomes open, company-wide brainstorming, where ideas are selected by likes. When you have enough ideas, you put them to a company-wide vote on an innovation platform, where only ideas with enough votes get through.
The funnel then narrows to a stakeholder vote of just those the most affected, such as a customer panel or a department that will have to apply the idea. Finally, an innovation committee or the c-suite will consider whether to move forward with an idea.
Have A Next Step Tied To Your Score
Ideas are wonderful to have, yet unless they’re implemented, they have no use. Implementation should be the next step after the evaluation is complete, whether you’re going to create a prototype or bring together a committee to create a draft process.
This should be transparent as well and be “where the rubber meets the road.” Ideally, your team will be able to see the prototype as it’s built, put through testing, and data is gathered. Here evaluation will be much different and really more in line with the typical approach; can the prototype or draft hit the benchmarks it needs to in order to be implemented? Good or bad, however, you should be sure everyone on your team can find out how the idea ultimately shook out and take that feedback into the next cycle of innovation. And yes, they should score that process and its transparency.
Innovation is an ever-unfolding, recursive process, and evaluation is just one step. To learn more about how Ideascale can help refine and enhance the process, schedule now.