Idea management – driving workforce empowerment and bottom-up innovation

Andrea Goodkind Blog

It’s no secret that happy, engaged and empowered employees, are more productive, perform better and have greater commitment to their role and company. Recent research by Engaging Works into workplace happiness revealed that in organisations with the most content staff, sick leave, staff turnover and wastage is lower, while motivation and effort is higher.

It’s also accepted knowledge that innovation is increasingly highly prized in modern business. To be innovative is to be dynamic, agile and progressive and while not every business is truly innovative, many claim to be.

Idea management cultivates engagement and innovation, a process that drives bottom-up innovation by empowering employees.

What exactly is bottom-up innovation?

Although innovation comes in many different forms, there are two main complementary approaches – top-down innovation and bottom-up innovation. The former relies on a strong and powerful vision, usually from the company founder or C-suite. Elon Musk (and Tesla) is a good example of this. Innovation is driven by the senior teams and is supported by employees who buy into this vision.

Bottom-up innovation works in the opposite way. The ideas are generated by employees, who are supported by entrepreneurial leadership and a culture that fosters and encourages such creativity. Our work with Waitrose, the UK supermarket chain, is a great example. They introduced Idea Spotlight across all 350 Waitrose stores. 60,000 employees were engaged, resulting in ideas (approximately 100 were submitted every month) that realised total savings of £3.5M and 1500% ROI.

Bottom-up innovation is a powerful way of generating ideas that have a transformative effect on a business, but a recent Accenture study – Getting to Equal 2019: Creating a Culture That Drives Innovation – cast doubts on many companies’ ability to build and grow such an environment. In the survey of UK employees, 91% of employees want to innovate but only 34% feel empowered to do so.

The role of idea management

With around two-thirds of the workforce feeling insufficiently empowered to innovate, it’s clear that organisations need a different approach. Implementing an idea management programme is an ideal way to foster bottom-up innovation, providing a platform to empower employees and contributing to the overall culture that is so important in innovation. This is how it can be used to help:

Rewards / recognition – rewarding and recognising employees for their contributions sounds like an obvious thing to do and is a key element of any successful innovation programme, but it is surprising how many organisations overlook this. Employees need to know that they are in a trusted environment, and that their ideas will be received, acknowledged, recognised, and, most importantly that there is a process in place to either implement or provide feedback on ideas.

Our customer, Direct Line Group is one of the UK’s biggest insurers, and gave its own innovation programme a boost via a reward scheme. To start, every employee whose idea was taken forward was given a flask full of smarties.

It also offered cash prizes for successful ideas – £138,000 was awarded to successful idea creators with a further £26,000 donated to charity. Every time a cheque was awarded, the recipient was publicly recognised by the business. This was all highly successful – more than 6,000 ideas were captured from 11,000 employees, resulting in more than £3.25 million in savings.

Although incentivising idea sharing can be useful in kickstarting innovation initiatives, true bottom-up innovation will build a culture of innovation within your organisation to offer ideas without the need for reward. When a workplace strikes a great balance of empowering employees and offering value in other ways, you’ll start to build towards an organisation full of Everyday innovators.


Building ideas through collaboration – the importance of collaboration in bottom-up innovation cannot be underestimated. While one employee might come up with the initial idea, that idea will then be discussed and developed further before it is fully realised, the old adage of two heads being better than one.
An idea management tool creates the platform for that collaboration to take place, connecting colleagues from different teams and departments that might be located in different countries all around the world. It’s a safe and trusted space, where people feel empowered and confident to collaborate, and in doing so, come up with stronger and more sustainable (and scalable) types of bottom-up innovation.

Encourage competition – collaboration is an intrinsic part of innovation, but equally so is competition. Driving competition between people and teams can bring out different ways of thinking and involve more people that may be hesitant to voice an idea alone, but would be happy to do so in a team environment.

Hackathons are one of the best-known ways to encourage competition amongst developers. The formats and objectives can vary greatly, but at their core they all feature competition to submit the best idea. Yahoo, Google and Lonely Planet are some of the most high-profile organisations that regularly run hackathons, but really they can be effective for companies of any size in any industry.

Remember, hackathons are not solely for developers, at Wazoku we run our annual Kuathon that brings together our entire organisation for two days, forming groups to creatively solve problems. The Wazoku team, divides into teams to generate new ideas and collaborate on business improvement projects to combat some of the current business challenges that a chosen charity organisation is facing. 

Finding your innovation ambassadors – one of the principals of bottom-up innovation is the idea that anyone can contribute a good idea no matter how big or small that idea may be. But it’s also true that some people have a natural flair and aptitude for innovation, not only capable of coming up with great ideas of their own, but also skilled at encouraging others. So, developing such innovation ambassadors, and in turn incentivising and empowering them to facilitate change, can really foster collaboration and drive bottom-up innovation in an organisation.

Tracking and measuring results – any innovation programme, whether bottom-up or otherwise, needs to be tracked and measured effectively. An organisation should put in place targets, totals and outputs, so it can understand the metrics and make refinements and enhancements to the innovation programme where necessary. An idea management platform can make reporting on innovation simple. Smart software can track all activity that takes place, give you a deeper understanding of employee engagement across your organisation, and give you the metrics and transparency to see analyse gaps and make changes. This helps build a more sustainable innovation culture for the long-term.

Bottom-up innovation is a highly effective way of engaging employees and driving a company to be innovative in a more sustainable way. Using an idea management platform is essential to this, simplifying and building transparency across an organisation and ensuring an innovation programme runs as you want it to, with accountable objectives and outcomes.

See how Wazoku has helped some of the biggest brands in the world with bottom-up innovation. Find out how we can transform your business today.