Paul Pluschkell, CEO and cofounder of Spigit, knows a thing or two about crowdsourcing. He launched the social collaboration platform in 2007, and has presided over the company’s 288% growth over the last three years. Spigit now serves over 6.5 million licensed users, and Pluschkell projects revenue to hover around $50 million in 2012. Now he believes he’s hit upon something as addictive as Pinterest with Spigit’s newest platform, Icon.
Even though 98% of business and government executives believe innovation will be critical to their success in the next five years, according to an HP report, Pluschkell says many still don’t have the resources or management structure in place to mine the rich ore of ideas that exists at the very edges of their workforce. But doing so could mean unearthing a million-dollar idea. For example, Amazon's years-long search for a great customer loyalty program eventually resulted in Prime, an idea suggested from a software engineer.
"If you don’t talk to employees on the edge it’s death," he tells Fast Company, especially if your competition is doing just that. Icon, the freemium application for business users to tap the wisdom of their company crowd, further breaks down traditional R&D by creating an innovation community in which every employee can contribute, even on their mobile devices.
"You can’t squeeze much more productivity out of the current workforce," says Pluschkell, because many people already spend a lot of time outside the office still working, digging to find the information they need to do their jobs. "When the information has a way to find us, there will be this incredible calm." Not to mention gaining back some five hours a day spent researching. But beyond enhancing a work/life balance, Pluschkell is convinced that the workforce of today really cares as much about contributing to a greater goal as they do about collecting a paycheck.
Pluschkell says now is the time for executives to leverage that need for information and the desire to contribute to align their employees behind strategic objectives through crowdsourcing. Here are his tips for motivating staff and surfacing great ideas.
Create A Safe Space
Pluschkell says some companies' cultures are inherently open and transparent while others, like big manufacturers, tend to be more siloed. To cull contributions from the crowd in either case, sometimes it's best to start taking suggestions anonymously. That has two benefits, says Pluschkell. The CEO can get on the bandwagon based on the idea alone and it gets rid of the embarrassment factor for those who may not be forthcoming for fear of rejection. "You can’t get radical breakthroughs without some bad ideas," he says.
Make a Time and Place for Every Idea
Pluschkell says "bad" ideas may not be bad—they may just come at the wrong time. What Spigit does is shelve all ideas that are not used and employ an algorithm to bring them back to the top when they might be a better fit. "You also need the right executives to execute disruptive ideas," he adds. That includes everything from acknowledging what works and what doesn't to being committed to putting a plan in place and being committed to carrying out the best contributions.
Provide Real-Time Feedback
From where to go for lunch to a quick take on a new product, real-time feedback is a way to motivate staff as well as align and execute, Pluschkell says, to achieve innovation every day. "You have a great way of sharing success stories and seeing real purpose and follow-through, otherwise success is short-lived," he says.
Pluschkell says the U.K.’s Department of Works and Pensions, with a staff of 70,000, was recently the subject of a Gartner study on the effects of real-time feedback. Not only did the people on Spigit’s crowdsourcing platform increase productivity by 40% over three months, but they were recognized for it. "Suddenly [the employee] has real impact and is recognized on the leaderboard," he says. Even if rewards are not monetary, they replace the motivation to spend time on Facebook or Pandora, Pluschkell says.
Use Games To Engage Different Thinkers
Through gamification, a simple contest offering a vote or quick win for new ideas generated engages staff in different and unrelated divisions. Pluschkell points to Citibank, which rolled out a program that engaged managers in over 75 countries who may not have had the opportunity to interact before and showcase their expertise. "It’s a powerful transformation tool."