More than 9,000 ideas have been submitted by USDOT employees through its IdeaHub. Employees create, rate, discuss and improve upon innovative ideas to help make the Department a top flight 21st-century agency. IdeaHub is credited for making the Department one of the best places to work in the Federal Government.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation launched a Transportation Innovation Program in 2015 to identify and implement innovative solutions for transportation related projects, processes, and products. In just the first year, 13 ideas were implemented to improve the way the agency was delivering projects.
With 3,300 employees spread across the largest state in the country, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities created an Idea Submission page to provide a forum for communicating and sharing innovative ideas across the agency.
The Missouri Department of Transportation holds an Innovation Challenge Showcase to display employees’ innovative efforts and awards the best ideas
Arizona Department of Transportation holds an “iShare Innovation Showcase” where employees share the innovations they’ve implemented.
Employee empowerment is the beating heart of a fruitful innovation initiative. In the most innovative organizations – at places like Google and Amazon - new ideas are not the domain of the C-suite, but rather they steadily emerge from deep in the organization, where all employees are invested and authorized to act on ideas for getting their jobs done better, rather than passively following rules set from above.
Ideation Platforms – Use a digital platform to get the benefits of crowdsourcing innovation either internally, or with the public. Ideation is a new twist on the old ‘suggestion box’ that gives ideas way more visibility to ensure they get discussed and enhanced through collaboration, rather than gathering dust.
In a workforce used to following orders, innovation doesn’t magically happen; it requires formal training. Often training is built around ‘Lean’ type initiatives; at the core of Lean training is coaching workers to go out on a limb, rather than stay passive, but it also involves learning how to present ideas and evaluate them in terms of key metrics like cost or time savings.
Without ownership, good ideas can easily die on the vine. DOTs must work to give ownership to idea generators by letting them prove the business case and then committing to implement where the case is proven. To avoid an ‘its not my baby’ attitude among employees, avoid a strict ‘gate-keeper’ culture around innovation, in which a small group anoints ideas; there is no way that will kill an innovation program more quickly.
In the tech sector, small, highly independent teams of employees drive innovation by moving quickly and changing direction as needed. Sometimes the work of each team is in conflict or overlap, but this promotes healthy competition with innovations being judged ultimately on their merits.
In the Google and Kiewit case studies, healthy competition among personnel is a powerful driver of innovation. At Kiewit, the Spigot ideation platform provides a way for employees to track who is generating the best ideas. Spigot awards points to employees based on how many ideas and how many votes they submit.
Experienced leaders in innovation find that it is literally an impossible task to police innovation. A much more practical strategy is to let ideas stand or fall on their relative merits (in terms of cost and time savings or customer satisfaction improvements and alignment with mission critical goals like mobility, safety or preservation) rather than try to judge every idea and say no to some, which shuts down innovation.
Part of innovation is a risk of failure. An innovation culture requires changing attitudes about failure. In the tech world, teams move quickly to test new ideas and move on if they don’t work. Failure doesn’t mean no accountability; it means testing and proving.
Control risk by piloting risky innovations first, so the costs of failure are contained. Training helps employees learn how to spot and refine ideas, so they are more likely to succeed, rather than fail. Be prepared to move on quickly if an idea proves unsuccessful.