How to Run a Digital Employee Ideation Challenge (and How to Overcome Its Challenges)

How to Run a Digital Employee Ideation Challenge (and How to Overcome Its Challenges)

Just because you're working remotely doesn't mean your innovation efforts have to be put on hold.                                                                    

Carter Liebscher|
September 30, 2020

There’s no question that COVID-19 has disrupted industries across the board. From the sheer logistical challenges of running a company digitally to the inherent emotional downsides to remote work, numerous companies are finding it hard to juggle long-term goals with immediate work.

It’s hard even for the most innovation-oriented companies, where long-term goals usually refer to the bulk of their innovation work.

While it may seem that the steps toward your innovation goals seem to be larger when employees are working physically together, your team can reach the same goals through digital means.

For leadership, that may mean running an online employee ideation challenge. For employees, it means, of course, participating in that challenge.

How can you and your employees innovate digitally—and effectively and efficiently at that?

Our CEO Coby Skonord’s recently shared his insights at the Innov8rs Connect: Unconference. Read and watch below to see how your organization can put into action your digital innovation plan.

Step #1: Find the Right Collaborative Tool

This is an obvious starting point, but many organizations find themselves stuck finding the right innovation tool that’s collaborative, transparent, and configurable.

The low-hanging fruit—Excel and email threads—are low-hanging for a reason: They’re not dedicated innovation tools, and the trade-off your org receives for familiarity is lack of functionality.

The best innovation tools are those that are specifically tailored for innovation work. And as organizations find ways to deliver customer needs digitally in the era of remote work (and remote living), they too need to figure out ways to deliver employee needs.

Considering 90% of company leaders believe COVID-19 will have a lasting effect on how they operate over the next half a decade, it’s vital that organizations work collectively, even if digitally, to transform themselves for the sake of customers and employees.

“No industry is safe from new models of delivery.”

Step #2: Find the Influencers in Your Organization

Who are the most influential employees in each department?

You might think they’re the employees who have been there the longest, or the highest-ranking employees just before becoming a department head.

Your most influential employees very well might be either one of the two examples above, but the key is determining the most influential employees for your own organization.

Reach out to your frontline employees. They know who they take cues from—and who they’ll participate in an innovation challenge with.

“The people who are going to be the most interactive with other employees and have the most reach … are the folks you want to target.”

Step #3: Solidify Your Champion Network

With a strong internal influencer network, you’ll want to connect those employees with other leaders—from department heads to executives—to foster multi-leveled communication and really drive home the benefits to running a challenge.

After you’ve reached out to your influencer network, loop them in to communications with other leaders so they can clearly lay out what their goals for the challenge and how they can help influence others to participate.

Even when your challenge is up and running on your dedicated platform, you’ll need those to kick off and maintain engagement.

“The number-one thing is promoting participation.”

Step #4: Promote, Promote, Promote!

Promoting your ideation challenge is where the real bulk of digital work begins.

You’ll need to come up with unique branding for your challenge, create the collateral with unique messaging for sharing, and divvy up pre- and post-launch responsibilities.

It may sound daunting, but after you’ve solidified your champion network and connected with both frontline and influencer employees, your promotion efforts will be worth the engagement.

“There are a lot of things that have big impact, and one of them is having the [CEO’s] … name behind the [challenge’s] branding materials.”

Step #5: Implement a Recognition and Incentive System

One of the issues we see from organizations first trying out an employee ideation challenge, online or off, is leaders not giving standout employees recognition for their ROI-positive ideas.

While we also recommend providing incentives to promising employee ideas, recognition, at the very least, is a necessity. It encourages both short- and long-term engagement, inspiring the employee whose idea has been chosen to be acted upon and their peers to suggest their own.


COVID-19 has put a pause on a lot of things, but it doesn’t have to put a pause on your innovation efforts. Your employees are already working remotely: Why not engage them that why and continue forging your path toward innovation success?

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