In a 2017 Harvard Business Review article, Anna Steinhage, Dan Cable, and Duncan Wardley talk about the impact competition can have in a workplace. They described how hosting an internal challenge can generate creative results and inspire collaboration or it can create unethical behaviors and cutthroat rivalry.

The authors go on to articulate the difference between these two potential outcomes: does the employee feel fear or excitement? If the employee feels afraid, they are more likely to take aggressive (and potentially unscrupulous) action whereas if a participant feels excited, they are more likely to generate positive and creative results.

The authors recommend that the best way to keep competitions positive is to highlight strengths and celebrate wins rather than threatening loss or deriding “losers.” This is even moreso the case when a company launches an innovation competition, where the risk of failure is high. If an organization creates a competition that celebrates winners as well as failures (or as some call them “lessons learned”) and highlights unique opportunities for winners rather penalizing those who don’t win, organizations find themselves in the unique position of not only identifying some great new ideas, but also improving workplace culture.

Wolters Kluwer is a Dutch company that is a global provider of professional information, software solutions and services for professionals, and they offer an excellent template for organizations looking to launch a purposeful and positive innovation competition.

Wolters Kluwer serves customers in over 180 countries, maintains operations in over 40 countries, and employ approximately 19,200 people worldwide. With that global network of wide-ranging in specialties, they have a huge opportunity to leverage the collective domain knowledge of their workforce, which is why Wolters Kluwer has been running their Global Innovation Awards for the past ten years—a cross-company competition encouraging the development and implementation of innovative solutions from within. It’s not just a great employee engagement exercise—75% of the suggested ideas are implemented and adopted across Wolters Kluwer. And the work shows, Wolters Kluwer regularly wins awards for its innovation performance.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Wolters Kluwer opens the GIA (Global Innovation Awards) to every employee in one of three categories: Adjacencies, Game Changers, and Internal Improvement
  2. Each category has defined criteria and assigned weights. Ideas are reviewed and filtered in the first stage gate by the Divisions.
  3. Initial evaluations are cross-calibrated in a second Stage Gate with Divisional and Functional leads. They have the difficult task of shortlisting 15-18 finalists This helps cross-pollinate ideas across Wolters Kluwer leads and at times they even combine two different complementary submissions into a more compelling single submission.
  4. The competition culminates in day-long pitch session with an external panel of experts along with the Wolters Kluwer CEO to select the winners.

The mood of celebration on that final day and the chance to win recognition for a great idea (rather than lose out for not identifying a good idea), keeps the spirit of the event positive and has genuinely led to numerous improved products, processes, and offerings across the company.

To learn more, listen to this podcast interview with Atul Dubey, Chief Strategy Officer at Wolters Kluwer.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.



Featured image via Pixabay.