Jeff Hunger keeps a Post-it note on his desk with a list of ideas. It’s covered with notes on how to bring new value to Hyland Software, where he’s managed internal software systems since 2006.
Hunger’s boss has always allowed him freedom to use time during his working hours to experiment with those thoughts — to mature them and test them. But Hunger was uncomfortable approaching the executive level of the 970-employee company with his suggestions.
“I fell into a group of people that didn’t want to embarrass themselves by talking directly to the CEO,” Hunger says.
That changed this year when the company launched an “innovation page,” a blog-style website where Hyland employees can post ideas for new products, improved processes or just about anything they feel will better the company. Other employees can see what’s been posted, either anonymously or by name, and comment and add to an idea. When the page went live in February, 15 proposals were listed in the first 30 days, says Alex Sheen, Hyland’s newly minted innovation manager, whose job is to draw new ideas from employees and incubate them as they get off the ground. The site received 3,500 visits, and each proposal had an average of 30 votes and five comments.
“I’ll be honest, I wasn’t one of the early contributors,” Hunger says. “I like to let my ideas really mature before I jump on them.”
But in June, he posted an experimental program he had developed for OnBase, Hyland’s document management software. It creates small windows that pop up on the screen like a to-do list. Similar to gadgets in the home screen of newer Windows computers, it reminds users of projects and what priorities need to be addressed while using the software. It was approved within 30 days and will be released for alpha market research with the 10.2 version of OnBase.
“I was really shocked to see how many people got excited about it,” he says. “You can see the company buzz being built over these ideas. I’d be walking down the hall and people would say, ‘That idea was great. Are we going to do that?’ ”
To date, the innovation page has collected more than 65 proposals and 400 comments. About 12 ideas are active projects. Hyland joins a very few software and technology companies, including Google, that have a separate structured innovation progam.
The innovation page has its roots in Hyland’s fast-paced growth. When CEO AJ Hyland took over in 1997, he employed about 70 people. The company was small and nimble enough to involve employees in feedback about the workplace. But by 2009, Hyland Software employed about 900 around the world. Hyland realized red tape had grown in processes that prevented a free exchange of ideas, Sheen says.
That year, Hyland started innovation meetings, 15-minute one-on-one meetings in which any employee could meet directly with AJ Hyland to present ideas. He made more than 30 the first year.
Sheen, a market intelligence specialist at the time, met with AJ Hyland five times, with a new idea each meeting. Four of them, including the idea for the innovation page and the idea for an OnBase Keyboard with specialized commands, have been implemented, and the fifth is backlogged.
“The innovation meeting was good for those with gusto to come up to AJ and pitch their ideas, but a lot of co-workers were reluctant,” Sheen says. Now, people who have worked with the company for 10 to 15 years are using the innovation page to vet an idea that has been discussed around the water cooler since the early days of the company, he says.
“In our sector, we have to produce a distinct competitive edge with innovation,” Sheen says. “If you research innovation management, Hyland Software really is on the cutting edge.”