Innovation Contest Draws HR Tech Ideas

In a sign that people management is a priority these days, three of the 10 finalist entries in a business innovation contest co-sponsored by the Wharton School involve human resources.

The entries included a social networking tool as well as a performance ranking system and a method for tapping the talents of young workers. The three made it to the final stage of the Wipro/ Knowledge@Wharton Innovation Tournament, which featured technology-based tools for helping companies gain a competitive advantage. The contest attracted 150 original submissions from around the globe.

Christian Terwiesch, a Wharton School professor involved in the tournament, said the strong showing of HR- related proposals reflects the profession’s importance.

“A lot of the unsolved management problems are in the people space,” Terwiesch says.

None of the three HR-focused finalists took the top prize in the tournament, which went to a project designed to fix supply chain problems. The winner was chosen at an event in late March at the Wharton School, the business school at the University of Pennsylvania

Among the hopefuls was the team of Nadia Laurincikova and Thomas Rudy, whose proposal was titled “The Full Access Innovation Method.” Laurincikova and Rudy, both 20-something entrepreneurs in New York, say their tool provides a means for companies to solicit the ideas of Gen Y employees.

Laurincikova and Rudy met at financial services giant Citigroup. She says their project stems from frustration at working at large companies and not having much opportunity to pursue creative ideas as junior employees. “It’s very personal for us,” Laurincikova says.

Another entry related to idea-sharing was Sidharth Bhatia’s OrgStrat. Bhatia, who is pursuing a master’s degree in business in Montreal, says OrgStrat is a simple collaboration tool that helps organizations better manage their knowledge.

The technology’s ease of use sets it apart from other social networking products, Bhatia says.

“Most tools in the market are targeted at technology-savvy firms with a young labor force,” he says.

The third HR-related finalist was PERC, the Performance Evaluation Report Card. Submitted by business consultants Jim Boswell and Tristan Yates, the tool is designed to improve performance within a comparable set of employees or work groups by giving them monthly rankings based on a range of metrics. Yates says PERC could have limited the damage of the financial crisis.

“We see it as a very important tool for helping to manage financial institutions,” Yates says.

The tournament, co-sponsored by technology services firm Wipro, was inspired by a book co-written by Terwiesch and fellow Wharton professor Karl Ulrich titled Innovation Tournaments: Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities.

Terwiesch says companies should do much more to generate ideas, akin to the way the TV show American Idol considers many contestants before filtering down to several finalists.

Too often, he says, companies limit the “front end” of innovation to too few concepts, which can result in a product clunker.

“There’s nothing you can do in your engineering department that takes a crappy idea and turns it into gold,” he says.

Workforce Management, May 2010, p. 8Subscribe Now!