This is what happened when one company launched its own version of Dragons’ Den

07 December 2017 -

DragonInside a radical innovation from one of the innovative companies featured in Leadership and Culture at Work: The CMI/Glassdoor Top 20

Guest blogger Chloë Marsh

Why did you decide to launch your own version of Dragons’ Den?

In recent years, the world of social housing has changed significantly with a series of government announcements and turns of event that have forced us to revaluate the way we do things. We realised that if we’re not only to survive but also thrive in this new world (and fulfil our purpose of providing 2,000 more affordable homes over the next six years) innovation was key. And we knew this had to start with our employees.

One of the activities we introduced to help embed a culture of innovation and to encourage ideas at every level was our own version of Dragon’s Den called ‘4 in 4’.

How does it work?

4 in 4 is run once a quarter and involves four people doing a pitch for four minutes on an idea that’ll lead to a business improvement. The special bit about it is people pitch to a room full of their peers who then vote for the idea they want us to support as a business.

The winning person or team are then given the resources they need to turn their idea into reality including time outside their day job to work on the project, an Executive sponsor, the chance to pull a mini working group together and a small budget where necessary.

After three months, we invite them to feedback to our Exec Group about how it’s gone. What we instil in those that take part is that it’s ok if something hasn’t worked out – we know truly innovative organisations fail fast and learn from the process.

What does the business get out of this kind of concept?

Firstly, we’ve seen a business impact, with a number of 4 in 4 projects being successful in helping make us better, faster at lower cost. Examples include Clayton, one of our caretakers, who has saved us thousands of pounds with his idea on how we better deal with bulk rubbish, and Sue, a retirement scheme manager who has improved efficiency for her team by digitalising their support plans for customers.

Secondly, empowering people to make decisions and solve problems themselves without the need to escalate has a huge impact on engagement. The initiative has also helped people practise some of the behaviours and skills that we value the most such as curiosity, courage and problem solving.

What are the challenges of this kind of concept, what advice would you give to other companies looking to do the same?

The biggest challenge is embedding this type of activity so it becomes the norm.  Although not as scary as facing the real dragons, it still takes a lot of courage to pitch your own idea in front of a big group of people.

To encourage people to take part, we’ve made lots of noise about those that have got involved through platforms such as Yammer. Everyone also has an objective linked to innovation and we’ve recognised people who’ve successfully completed their 4 in 4 project through our quarterly awards.

To help support people turning their ideas into reality, our innovation manager has started to support individuals and teams. The easy part is often coming up with the concept, but the really tricky bit comes when you need to make it happen, so providing frameworks and support for people is key.

What do staff think of the idea?

They love it! It’s hugely empowering to be given the opportunity to not only pitch an idea but also to be given the support and resources to then make it happen.

Chloë Marsh is head of engagement at Richmond Housing Partnership. Click here for the full list of commended organisations in Leadership and culture at Work: The CMI/Glassdoor Top 20

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