Michele McConomy | US Innovation Office Manager, PwC
It is becoming increasingly important to accelerate innovation by discovering, developing, and implementing ideas that increase the speed of delivering new products and services. Here at PwC, and as in other organizations, people are bubbling over with ideas and creative ways to deliver more value to clients. There is a great opportunity with the use of social media to tap into the collective knowledge of people. We wanted to take advantage of this opportunity and created a way for our people to share, collaborate, and expand on ideas. As Thomas Edison once said – “There’s a way to do it better—find it.” And find it we did.
Just one year ago, we launched our firm’s first online idea management platform, PwC iPlace, and provided a way for our people to share ideas and find inspiration in an open and interactive online forum. As they say, “if you build it they will come”, and boy…did the ideas come. In just one year – the response has been tremendous as we’ve generated over 2,000 ideas, 10,000 comments, and 40,000 votes.
So why did we have such great success in the first year? Here are six key factors we think are why…
- Leading the way. Leadership endorsed PwC iPlace right from the beginning – not only through words, but through action. Our US Chairman, Bob Moritz, hosted a firm-wide challenge for ideas around a particular business opportunity on the very first day PwC iPlace launched. We received over 150 ideas in less than 2 weeks, and that was just the beginning. Bob, along with firm leaders from across our business, leveraged iPlace to solicit ideas. In this first year, we have now launched over 15 idea challenges focused on creating new products and services, driving greater efficiencies, and developing better business models – just to name a few. These challenges have driven over 65% of all ideas submitted to date. PwC iPlace would have never been such a success without the support and belief from top leadership.
- Simplicity is best. It was critical for the overall PwC iPlace experience to be very user friendly and easy to navigate. After conducting focus groups and interviews, we found the main attraction to be the PwC iPlace’s design simplicity. This simple approach allows the user to perform one of only three actions – provide an idea, post a comment, or vote. In our first year over 25% of the firm contributed in one of these three ways.
- Meritocracy works. Taking a meritocratic approach gave everyone a voice by removing the typical barriers of organizational hierarchy (i.e., title, role) and years of experience (i.e., responsibilities). In PwC iPlace, your only identification is your name – nothing else. By leveling out the playing field gives everyone an opportunity to participate without hesitation – from new hires to leadership. The biggest misconception is that participation is driven by our less experienced, younger employees. We have found that of those who have participated in PwC iPlace – over 55% are from our more experienced Managers, Directors, and Partners. It is great to see that iPlace has become a place for everyone to share ideas across our firm – irrespective of location, competency, or staff class. This has created a culture of focusing on the idea, rather then who originated it.
- Living up to a promise. For each idea submitted by an ideator, an implicit social contract promises that a senior leader, along with members of his/her team, will assess and respond to the idea. This promise is critical for those contributing to the idea since it communicates that the ideas will be seriously considered by the people who can make it happen. Living up to the promise of assessing and responding to each idea has proven to be more important to the individual than selecting their idea for implementation.
- Work the process. With every idea being evaluated by a member of senior leadership, we had to develop a defined and clear process to manage each idea. Leadership and their management teams work to triage and assess each idea within 30 days of submission. Timely assessment is important not only to the person with the idea, but also for our firm’s ability to bring high-impact, high-value ideas to reality. This process is carefully managed in order to accelerate innovation and collaborate with our people.
- Transparency is key. Providing people with the status of their idea helps them understand the evaluation process, and gives them an appreciation for how companies make business decisions. People do not necessarily care if their idea is implemented, but they do want to understand how their idea was considered and why the resulting decisions were made. Sharing the reason for why an idea will not be implemented has served to be just as important as sharing the reason for why an idea is implemented.
These six key factors were critical to the success of our first year with PwC iPlace. We have found that by involving everyone in the process and by creating a way to share, collaborate, and evaluate ideas, one can accelerate innovation by implementing the most valuable ideas. Just in the first year alone, we were able to implement over 50 ideas and are now working towards implementing over 200 more!! These ideas are inspiring new ways of thinking, developing new approaches, creating ways to be more efficient and effective, and providing enhanced services in the marketplace.
We have tapped into the power of 30,000 people in an effort to deliver more value to our clients, communities, and firm. So what are you doing to inspire your people to contribute their ideas and creativity? How are you tapping into their collective knowledge to accelerate innovation?