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This story begins with a coffee. Or, more specifically, a passing comment I made to Coates Hire CEO, Jeff Fraser, in a coffee shop about 18-months ago.

For some time I’d been thinking about ways we could harness the creativity and experience within our business, so when I saw Jeff grabbing a coffee I thought I’d mention it. My point was essentially that we had more than 2,000 people, all over the country, with so many good ideas. But what we didn’t have was a mechanism to capture and develop them. It just seemed like a huge missed opportunity.

To my surprise, Jeff nodded immediately and said: “You’re absolutely right. So what are you going to do about it?”

Starting small, aiming big

The first thing I did (aside from thinking ‘what have I gotten myself into!’) was reach out to some former colleagues at KPMG. They had a lot of interesting ideas, but one that really caught my attention was using an online crowdsourcing platform to give our staff a direct opportunity not just to voice their ideas – but to actually help develop them. Our employees are so passionate about what they do, but many of them are in roles where the opportunity to engage with the business and share their innovative ideas is limited. We needed a platform where everyone can have their say, own their ideas and make a genuine difference.

To test it out, we held a one-day pilot with KPMG at Barangaroo. It was an innovation think tank that obviously generated some good ideas, because within a few weeks the Board had agreed to fund a company-wide crowdsourcing initiative.

Defining the challenge

The process began by articulating what we actually wanted to do. Specifically, what would we ask our 2,000-strong workforce to set the process in motion? After some robust discussions the question we landed on was simple, customer-centric and, perhaps most importantly, wide open to interpretation:

“If you were a Coates Hire customer, what would you have us do to improve your customer experience?”

Launched hand-in-hand with an incentive scheme to motivate employees to get involved, the challenge question went out to everyone nationwide – from our ‘yardies’ and admin team to branch managers and sales – using an online platform. Our priority was to be relevant and approachable. With thousands of employees to engage, we wanted them to feel they could share their ideas.

Sparking innovation

This is how Spark was born, a colourful and versatile identity that encouraged different ideas and brought collaboration to life. Spark stood out by using every channel Coates Hire has, but looking nothing like our look, feel and brand. Through Spark, the project leadership team was able to review ideas in real-time, offering constructive feedback and challenging people to make them even better. We decided to take a measured approach and give our business the space and time to accept the Spark concept by implementing a three phase marketing and communication plan over a period of 10 weeks.

Over the campaign, we explained the importance of sharing ideas. Prizes for collaboration were promoted and rules on how to play and the selection criteria were published. The communications were scheduled and consistent, allowing time-poor staff to consume the information at their own pace.

Believing in your workforce works

The challenge took place over a three-week period to encourage people to come together in one place at the same time. It’s now easy to say that our faith in the knowledge and expertise of our people has paid off, receiving over 200 entries that will help improve every area of our business. With Spark, we plan to put these learnings to the test and implement the best customer solutions given by those who know them best.

A win-win scenario

Throughout this whole process, from gathering ideas, to now testing and implementing them, we’ve found that by listening to the different areas in our business, we can understand how to address our customers’ needs. Spark has allowed us to bring our staff together towards one goal, proving to our employees that we value their ideas and contributions and that when they make these suggestions we’ll work with them to actually make them happen. After such an all-around positive experience, I’m confident that we will find solutions to better serve our customer. I’m only left with one question... why isn’t every business doing this?

Are you tapping into the ideas within your own business? Could crowdsourcing work for you? Please share your thoughts below, or you can contact us directly on 13 15 52.

David McAllister – Group Manager Strategic Accounts


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