Internal crowdsourcing, which enlists ideas from employees, is not as well-known as other forms of crowdsourcing. Managed well, however, it can open up rich new sources of innovation.
As organizations look for better solutions to their everyday problems, many are encouraging their employees to use their experiences to develop new ideas and play a more active role in the innovation process. Whether the issue involves improving hiring practices, deciding which new products or services to offer, or creating better forecasts, companies including AT&T Inc., Google Inc., and Deutsche Telekom AG have turned to what’s known as internal crowdsourcing.1
Although external crowdsourcing, which involves soliciting ideas from consumers, suppliers, and anyone else who wants to participate, has been widely studied,2 internal crowdsourcing, which seeks to channel the ideas and expertise of the company’s own employees, is less well-understood. It allows employees to interact dynamically with coworkers in other locations, propose new ideas, and suggest new directions to management. Because many large companies have pockets of expertise and knowledge scattered across different locations, we have found that harnessing the cognitive diversity within organizations can open up rich new sources of innovation. Internal crowdsourcing is a particularly effective way for companies to engage younger employees and people working on the front lines.3
We conducted a four-year study of how multiple companies used internal crowds that included frontline employees to find new solutions to business challenges. We observed internal crowdsourcing in practice, interviewed executives who sponsored internal crowdsourcing innovation challenges, and surveyed participants. We also participated in the design, implementation, and execution of internal crowdsourcing events at several companies. (See “About the Research.”) In this article, we will examine the benefits of internal crowdsourcing, the roadblocks that stand in the way of successful initiatives, and ways crowdsourcing efforts can be designed to overcome those roadblocks.