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CEO Challenges Part 2: Incentives, Scalability, and Overcoming Barriers

16 07 2014

grand-challengeIn my previous blog post, I discussed the effects of emerging social technologies, and what it means for leaders to execute CEO challenges — top-down initiatives that solve a high-level business problem — through managed innovation, collaboration, and employee engagement.

These types of collaborative challenges come in many forms; a necessary approach considering the multitude of variables that exist from company to company. And, as expected, each brand of challenge comes with its own unique hurdles, benefits, needs, and potential outcomes.

The Grand CEO Challenge

When working within the confines of an innovation management program, it’s important that the type of challenge be selected based on what issue an organization is trying to solve. A popular type is the CEO Grand Challenge, where the purpose is to rally the company around a significant stake in the ground or a specific barrier to overcome that will prove meaningful to the company. The CEO sets a barrier, with a race ensuing to be the first employee to overcome it. You’ve probably seen or heard of similar Challenge mechanics in popular mechanisms like the Ansari X-Prize, which stimulated the race for commercial space flight.

stevenotembaOne such challenge, and famous one, revolves around Apple’s Steve Jobs. Walking into the developer’s office space one day, he simply laid a manila envelope on top of their desk and said: “Make me a computer that fits in that.” The result? The Macbook Air. Steve later delighted in using the manila envelope example when presenting the resulting product to the press at the launch event.

The CEO Innovation Prize

The CEO Innovation Prize approach is increasingly becoming the most popular and successful challenge type. As CEOs leverage advanced gamification techniques to engage their crowd on multiple levels, they provide participants with more than just a goal — they also create a journey to get to that goal. It’s especially popular because a well-designed Innovation Prize can rally the company around the concept of innovation, and drive employees to embrace it on a cultural and emotional level.

citiideas_thimbOne well-known example of this is the award winning Citi Ideas Challenge, which we at Mindjet developed in partnership with Citi’s Innovation team. Over the course of four months, Citi’s then CEO, Vikram Pandit, launched a challenge to all 266,000 Citi employees across 94 countries around the world, asking them to re-envision the future of banking.

The Challenge effectively engaged employees, who quickly began submitting and developing leading-edge concepts for what that future could look like. They did so in teams that spanned multiple business units and geographical locations. At the end of the Challenge, four finalist teams were asked to pitch live to five of Citi’s top executives, as well as the company as a whole, in order to decide which idea would be the winner.

The result of the challenge not only identified some great concepts for incubation, but also heralded the entrance of a new, collaborative work style at Citi.

A Call to Arms

The CEO Call to Arms is a fairly normal type of challenge. It’s a call from the top to solve a significant strategic problem. These come in many shapes and sizes, but always revolve around addressing a particular business problem that is close to the CEO’s heart.

sER_clark306102x004_r620x349Andrew Clark, CEO of Bridgepoint Education, ran one such challenge to solve one of his biggest issues: maximizing customer and student retention. As a major educational institution, the challenge of not just attracting new students — but then also retaining them all the way through to graduation — is absolutely key to their survival. Leading the way, Andrew launched his CEO Challenge to all 7,600 employees, back office and academic staff alike. This resulted in 465 ideas from all parts of the organization, aimed at targeting this key problem — many of which have been implemented to great effect since.

In addition, the Challenge established new collaborative benchmarks for Bridgepoint that broke down organizational silos, setting the scene for further collaborative events at Bridgepoint.

Having reviewed 3 different CEO Challenge types, let’s look at some of the Issues to consider when running a successful CEO Challenge.

Issues to Consider: Sponsorship, Scalability, and Globality

There are many elements that differentiate even the simplest of CEO challenges from your standard, run-of-the-mill collaborative challenge. For example, there are:

– Issues of Sponsorship. As many of you experienced Innovators know, sponsorship is a key element to any innovation challenge. However, when your sponsorship comes from the very top of an organization, it brings some unique hurdles with it. As with any other messages coming from the CEO, the employee base takes messages from the very top as guidance for how they should be behaving and approaching business problems. As such, extra care needs to be taken around getting the goals, execution, and communications that go into a CEO challenge just right, because the risks associated with getting them wrong can reverberate exponentially across the organization.

– Issues of Scale. With large numbers come some unique problems to overcome, including communication challenges to rally the participant base. It’s important to ask the following:

  • Do we need to prepare line managers with enough information to answer their charges?
  • Do we need to engage in silo busting activities to ensure even participation across all parts of the business?
  • Do we include contractors? Do we need to provide people with ‘permission to participate’?

Hourly workers or call center reps, for example, will frequently need time codes or some other allowance to enable them to take part.

– Issues of Globality. The CEO Challenge is the most likely to engage colleagues across multiple countries in a single activity. With that global reach come global problems. For example:

  • Are there IP/legal issues to overcome? Some countries have draconian IP laws that require special attention. And depending on the countries you involve, there are also data privacy and export laws to be wary of.
  • Will there be any obstacles surrounding language? Do you intend to run the whole challenge in one language, or should you attempt to handle multiple languages? If you decide to use multiple, how will you handle the translation issues involved in order to enable everyone to interact?
  • The value of specific incentives can change massively between one economic entity and another. What constitutes a small gift and incentive in the US could be a massive, taxable event in Sri Lanka. And, what’s appropriate in one country could be inappropriate, or even illegal, in others!
  • Collaborative styles also differ around the world. Some are more individualistic, some are more team-oriented, and others flourish in anonymity. You need to find the perfect medium between all of these styles so that you can successfully engage the largest number of people.

Overcoming these and others become the key to a successful CEO challenge. However, the benefits from doing a well run CEO Challenge are immense, enabling you to rally your workforce and make massive cultural leaps in addition to the obvious benefits from crowdsourcing on a grand scale.

The Keys to Success

So — if you do decide to rise to the task of running a CEO Challenge, let me leave you with these 5 tips for success:

  1. Engage your CEO early. They’re already thinking about this — help them understand the implications and the benefits.
  2. Choose the right model. What are we trying to do, and what’s the best path to get there?
  3. Plan your communications carefully. Be all encompassing, be transparent, and be mindful of localities.
  4. Give permission. Make sure to clear the barriers and actively ask for participation from the masses. Exemplify the actions you’d like them to take.
  5. Celebrate hard. The CEO Challenge doesn’t end with the end of the challenge — it’s the spark that lights the cannon of employee action. Beyond a single challenge, you’ll need to ensure you follow up with transparency, and a well received celebration of the employees and actions that led to a successful result.

At the end of the day, choosing a challenge type, understanding the barriers, and following the keys to success are integral for running a successful CEO Challenge. 

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Gamification in Innovation

23 05 2012

A few months ago I wrote a post on the promise of Gamification in the Enterprise. You can read the whole piece but as a recap, here are some of the more salient points:

1) Gamification in the enterprise is not about trivializing business processes or activities, but rather about embracing a design methodology that taps into an inherent “addiction” inside all of us to the engagement mechanics and format of  “good games”

2) Games surround us everywhere, if we choose to see them as such. Just because we don’t envision the business (and other) systems around us as games; just because we don’t design them as games; doesn’t mean they’re any less of a game – it just makes them bad games that no-one wants to play.

3) The ultimate expression of engagement is the human feeling of enjoyment – where we actively derive pleasure from engaging in a specific activity. What if we could bring that level of engagement into a business process, like Innovation for example, that would have people actively choosing to give up their free time to create new value for the company?

As in the past, a company’s Innovation process has become the best testing ground for new ways to engage the broader crowd – not least of which the history of corporate innovation becoming ever more successful with the increasing size of the crowd they’re able to tap into.  Gamification is no different – and already companies like Citi, Cisco, Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt and others have embraced Gamification as a way to redesign systems to drive a new level of engagement within their crowds.

For example – at Citi, we were able to engage more than 263,000 employees around the world in 97 countries in a collaborative innovation challenge that incorporated Gamification techniques to drive a unique process that collected over 2,300 raw ideas, developed and refined 10 of those into full on business cases with accompanying video pitches, and then further refined those into 4 top quality concepts complete with prototypes that were pitched in front of Citi’s top 5 executives to be funded for development.  The amount of collaborative builds was incredible – with each of the top ideas all-receiving input from multiple business units and geographies – something previously unheard of at Citi. And the most amazing part of all? There were zero incentives used to drive that high level of engagement  beyond the gamified design of the challenge enabled by the Spigit tool.  (You can read more about the Citi Ideas Global Challenge here)

But Gamification has impact in every part of the organization and has the potential to revolutionize the way we do business as a whole.  For example – another technique we pioneered here at Spigit is the use of Gameboards – which effectively change good old fashioned process charts like this:

Into this:

The game board approach not only conveys the same information as a process chart does – but also the critical engagement elements of story line, goal orientation, levels, emotions, and more. It enables us, as social strategists, to at any one point in time look at the game board and ask ourselves “Would I play this game”? – a engagement perspective that we never consider in normal design. Why would you ever do a process chart ever again?

As always, there is much more to this concept – but I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!








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