QinetiQ, a defense technology and security company, had built its reputation on brilliant solutions to important problems.
by Site Staff
December 27, 2009
QinetiQ, a defense technology and security company, had built its reputation on brilliant solutions to important problems. For more than 50 years, and before its privatization, the company served as a trusted advisor to the U.K. defense industry. Along the way, it invented and commercialized a wide range of products, including the now widespread LCD and radar technologies. <p>In looking at this heritage from the outside, one would assume that every day, one of QinetiQ’s 14,000 scientists or technicians would be petitioning the investment committee for funding for a breakthrough invention. But this simply did not happen. Innovation had dried up. Further, when a team did arrive to pitch for funding, the proposition had too many holes.</p> <p>There were two key hurdles preventing good innovation. First, the skill set that enabled the scientist to come up with the idea wasn’t the skill set needed to take the idea forward. Second, if the idea did not align with the goals of the team’s particular business unit, there was no alternative organizational structure in which to promote it.</p> <p>To address these challenges, QinetiQ’s leadership posed two questions: How do we get the right skill sets embedded in the corporate DNA, particularly among scientists and engineers? And how do we do it without letting the organizational autoimmune system kill off the “virus of the idea” before it has time to prove itself?</p> <p>QinetiQ set up the Pitching to Win program in the spring of 2007 with the goal of allowing anyone in the organization to propose and champion an idea. If accepted into the competition, the team would receive specific training enabling them to pitch a compelling proposition. There were three key elements to the program.</p> <p>First, QinetiQ established criteria for accepting people into the competition. Every individual who presented an idea got into the competition, no matter how strong the idea was in the eyes of senior management. Since the competition was voluntary and done on the employee’s own time, it became a self-selecting mechanism for the company’s up-and-coming talent. QinetiQ then could identify and foster the creativity of this group.</p> <p>Second, the organizers accepted any category of idea, whether the idea aligned with a business unit or not. One of two scenarios would then play out. Either the idea would morph into a strong proposition based on the critical questioning and testing undertaken during the tournament, or the team would withdraw its idea during the tournament, recognizing that it was not commercially viable. The goal here was the learning: It was beneficial for the team members to discover by themselves that the idea wasn’t feasible, rather than have it rejected by a senior executive.</p> <p>The third element of the program involved the knowledge transfer that each team received over the tournament. To make a convincing and compelling pitch, teams needed to master four key parts of an investable proposition, known internally as NABC: the need of the customer; the approach the team took to deliver the solution; the benefits for both the customer and QinetiQ; and the likely competition. Experienced instructors taught these skills during the 90 days of the competition and supported the teams throughout. Since the teams were actively developing their own ideas, they instantly absorbed all knowledge given to them. And because they applied this to a real idea, these skills also became sticky.</p> <p>Over the four years of the competition’s existence, 200 employees have entered, proposing 50 ideas total. Of these ideas, 11 got through to the finals and were eventually funded by QinetiQ.</p> <p>Throughout the course of the program, the organizers learned two important enablers of an effective tournament. First, it is important to prime the competition through proactive stakeholder management. This ensures the right messages get to the right people, including inviting external stakeholders to serve on the judging panel. The second is to make sure the organization backs the best ideas with funding, giving credibility to the competition and to senior managers’ commitment to innovation.</p>