Inside Scoop: Shifting the Innovation Culture at ACT

Posted by Janelle Noble at 8:33 AM, January 15, 2013

Inside Scoop: Shifting the Innovation Culture at ACT

Bol-maingraphic1At Brightidea, we often focus on large scale innovation programs at companies with thousands if not hundreds of thousands of employees. Often though, it is in smaller companies where innovation programs are tackling common problems such as sustaining employee engagement with unique creativity and resolve. One of these companies is the nonprofit organization that offers millions of education and career assessments across the country, ACT, Inc. The Innovation Team at ACT is taking a fresh approach to their innovation program through the blending of the digital social innovation platform with physical events. The result is a structured program with impressive engagement to boot.

Last year, the company hired its first Chief Innovation Officer along with staff to effectively initiate its innovation department. While the program scope covers new product innovations as well as process innovations, the overall mandate was really about spurring a cultural shift in the organization. Backed with the organizational structure, and the Brightidea-powered online platform “Bloom”, the program quickly launched a hybrid model of targeted and on-going campaigns where employees could contribute insight and solutions. The innovation team manages the on-going campaign (or the “Open Forum”) and works with department heads to structure and launch targeted campaigns. Departments must have the resources to manage a targeted campaign, and the budget and support to move ideas beyond the evaluation phase to implementation if plausible. 

An exciting feature of their program is a newly launched event series, “Bloom Out Loud”. Simply put, it’s the Bloom process, done out loud and in-person to showcase the impact the Bloom program is making on the business. Held quarterly, these fast-paced high-energy idea gatherings highlight the best ideas from the Open Forum. Remote employees were included by utilizing google hangout. Kari Stillman, who works with the Innovation Team at ACT, cited some positive feedback on the cultural effect of the event. “We received a lot of feedback saying it felt like the first time that we really showcased a culture shift for the organization…It wasn’t leadership talking to team members, it was peer-to-peer,” Stillman says.

BllomoutloudThe format for the event series is evolving, but at its core, a select group of idea submitters are chosen to present their ideas, in-person and with videos at the event. After the event two ideas move on to the next phase, which includes an ideation workshop and rapid prototyping session before presenting to the executive leadership team. Not only did this event gain traction for the innovation program as a whole (more than 250 ACT team members including senior leaders attended the first event), it is a step towards ensuring that strong ideas have the opportunity to be heard by different business units. It also allows for the community of participants to stay up-to-date on the progress of projects initiated from ideas submitted in the Open Forum.

Since the program began in June, the team has accumulated a company-wide participation rate of over 50% using Bloom, showing the focus on employee engagement has really paid off.

“Bloom Out Loud is a great way to showcase and recognize the impact team members can have by sharing an idea. It also amplifies the culture of innovation we strive to establish at ACT,” noted Stillman.

It will be exciting to see the returns this proactive program will yield in weeks, months, and years to come and no doubt ACT’s customers and employees will be reaping the benefits.

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