Innovation: Bottom Up or Top Down?
SAP Labs Israel’s DNA is such that it embraces innovation. We are involved in SAP global innovation programs and invest time and effort in creating different internal innovation programs such as InnoJam, TGIF, and others. Innovation is part of who we are, deriving from Israel’s “startup nation” quality surrounding us. Since we believe that innovation culture drives growth, we not only welcome innovation at the Lab, we are invested in igniting innovation with our own programs.
As in any process, when encouraging innovation within organizations, you always wonder which route would lead to higher employee involvement, and would yield better business results for the organization: Should you have employees come up with their own ideas and develop them, or have a strategic business direction that guides them through the direction of innovation? In other words – would you go bottom-up or top-down?
This year, we had the opportunity to try both approaches. The Intrapreneurship Program – a global innovation program designed to develop and foster innovation by enabling employees to act as entrepreneurs and transform innovative ideas into a profitable business in new markets – was launched earlier this year, and it uses the bottom-up approach. In parallel, SAP Labs Israel invests in building innovation growth engines, and as part of this effort, the Lab established an internal innovation program called Start.SAP. The Start.SAP program empowers local teams to develop a solution based on a real business need and the support of a business need owner from SAP Global – a top-down approach.
The Intrapreneurship program has big momentum in our Lab and was received with much excitement – 40% of the ideas to reach the final phase came from the lab in Israel.
The Start.SAP program did well too. Dozens of people contributed throughout the entire process, mainly on their own time, trying to find the best solution to a well-defined business challenge. One team was selected to work full time on developing the solution over the course of several months. The team benefits from SAP Labs Israel’s partnership with the Junction Accelerator, one of Israel’s leading accelerator programs.
It is too early in the process to tell what yields better business results, a bottom-up approach or a top-down one. From an employee-engagement perspective, having both types of programs, thereby allowing employees to opt for the program that fits the type of entrepreneur they are, results in higher employee engagement. If an employee wants to experience the full cycle of entrepreneurship, from initiating an idea, on through the business challenge and all the way to product development, then programs with a bottom-up approach are a better fit. For employees wanting to taste entrepreneurship from the product development perspective, a top-down program offers a great experience.
So, bottom-up or top-down? Ideally, try to offer both. Encouraging entrepreneurial behavior is the first step in developing a strong innovation culture. Both approaches stir people to action, and touch an emotional core that holds the key to real engagement that eventually leads to individual and company growth.