5 Tips for Crowdsourcing From Within

Crowdsourcing ideas from employees can prove fruitful, though experts advise on how to get the most from workers.
Crowdsource employees

Crowdsourcing can work wonders when a company seeks improvements for their products.

Netflix Inc. used the crowd in 2009 to improve its recommendations, gathering 44,014 submissions. Ultimately, individuals combined forces to meet their goal and take home a prize of $1 million.

However, not all companies want to share their problems or products with the outside world. Also, employees might want to weigh in on company issues and share their own insights into how the business operates.

Traditionally, the way to crowdsource internally has been through suggestion boxes or postings online, where workers can share their thoughts. Cultivate Labs, a Chicago-based software company that uses crowdsourcing for business forecasts, thought of a more efficient solution. Its Ignite platform mimics kickstarter campaigns, in which people post their goals, and individuals contribute allotted funds to what they think will be best for the company. Then, those that meet the necessary funding goals will see their ideas through to completion. This platform is also able to gather anonymous insights from employees about whether they will meet their business goals.

“Really, anything where the company wants to take a pulse from its employees about how it’s doing internally or externally or relevant events that are happening externally that may affect the business, they can ask their employees,” said Adam Siegel, co-founder and CEO of Cultivate Labs.

Here are five things to keep in mind when crowdsourcing internally:

1. Get the word out.

Communicating a crowdsourcing initiative internally can be through email communication or posters in office hallways, said Christopher Tucci, professor of management of technology and chair in corporate strategy and innovation at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. Leaders can also mandate participation or set up reminders about contests. However, be careful not to oversaturate communication, he said.

2. Offer participation incentives.

While workers could respond well to a small prize, money is likely to work, too. “The general rule in crowdsourcing is, if the company is making money from whatever you’re doing, generally speaking, you have to pay somehow or another,” Tucci said. People don’t want to make suggestions and then get nothing in return.

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However, incentives don’t have to cost anything. Cultivate Labs’ Siegel said the opportunity for employees to have a voice in the business is often incentive enough. “You’re inciting a much more transparent, open dialogue in the organization, which can feel quite empowering for people,” he said.

3. Be able to scale evaluation of ideas.

If inundated with ideas with only a single person to sort through them, decisions will take a significant amount of time, Tucci said. Some form of voting can mean the finalist lineup is also crowdsourced. However, never let this determine the ultimate winner of a competition, he advised.

In March 2016, a British government agency let the public suggest and vote on names for a new polar research ship. The public chose “Boaty McBoatface.” Ultimately, the Natural Environment Research Council overruled the public’s vote but still applied the name to an underwater research vessel.

4. Encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing.

“Those that let the crowds collaborate got better ideas,” said Arvind Malhotra, H. Allen Andrew professor of entrepreneurial education and professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. He discovered this to be true in his “Developing Innovative Solutions Through Internal Crowdsourcing study.

Rather than requiring employees to submit a fully thought-out idea, people can share knowledge, including key facts needed for an initiative, suggestions for improving cost or increasing value for customers. Often, those who lack specialized knowledge or experience relevant to the product can collaborate to find an even better solution than experts. After gathering suggestions and knowledge, business leaders should let those who participated come together to more fully build out the idea, Malhotra said.

5. Know when to crowdsource externally.

While internal crowdsourcing can prove effective, companies can miss out of a wealth of knowledge from outside of the office, Tucci said. “If you have a lot of people who are experts in a certain area that you don’t have in your company, then you’re better off actually going outside,” he said.

Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email editor@talenteconomy.io.