Nov 13, 2012 • By

Sparking employee innovation

Working at General Mills is an amazing experience. The combination of iconic brands, outstanding people, great facilities and a strong commitment to the community make it a place I am happy to call home.

Our employees are our best champions and provide some of the most innovative ideas that help keep us on the cutting edge. We, as an organization, are constantly looking for ways to engage employees and foster innovation.

Our recent “Idea Weekend” was a great opportunity to prove that.

In early October, we launched Idea Weekend, which brought together 35 employees from our Global Business Solutions, Sales, R&D and Finance areas to pitch their own ideas and see how far they could take those ideas in less than 30 hours.

The genesis for Idea Weekend came from internal discussions on innovation and past experience a few employees had participating in “Startup Weekend,” a non-profit that runs events around the world to spark new startup businesses. Idea Weekend uses a similar framework adapted to engage internal employees and build ideas that can have a huge impact within a company.

We kicked off our event on a Friday morning and the top ideas had until Saturday afternoon to transform from basic idea to developed concept which could be presented to a panel of judges consisting of Mike Martiny, chief information officer, and Denise Holloman, vice president for Continuous Improvement.

The results far exceeded expectations.

The level of passion, engagement, and fun the participants had along with the quality of ideas were outstanding – the weekend was a great success.

The format for the weekend was broken down into six pieces:

Pitch – Each employee received 60 seconds to tell everyone about their idea, the business impact and potential solution. Participants were not required to share an idea and those with multiple ideas were permitted to share multiple.

Vote – Once pitches were complete, the overall group voted for their top three ideas and the ideas with the highest number of votes became finalists.

Recap Top Idea– The finalists had two minutes to recap their idea, tell more about the solution and let the audience know what type of help they needed to make it a reality.

Form Teams – At the conclusion of the recap, participants spent 15 minutes talking with the idea leaders and chose one of the finalist ideas to work on for the weekend.

Innovate – The teams then spent the next 28 hours expanding on their idea, prototyping, developing software, building the business case and packaging it all into a compelling presentation. Some teams literally worked around the clock to make as much progress as possible.

Judging – Each team had eight minutes to share their idea, why it is important and what it could mean to the company and judges had an opportunity to ask clarifying questions.

In all, 35 employees participated in Idea Weekend and 30 ideas were pitched. 5 ideas were eventually presented to the judging panel. The ideas represent new ways for us to tackle internal challenges and make some of our processes more efficient.

Bringing together individuals from different parts of the business to build new relationships and work together on ideas will result in connections that will last far beyond the end of Idea Weekend.

Quotes from participants help capture some of the energy of the weekend:

•“This is the kind of thing that could keep me working at General Mills for the rest of my career.”

•“I liked that it gave us a chance to get out of our normal day-to-day roles to work on something really creative, different and innovative.”

We are already getting requests from other groups within the company who are interested in being part of the next event.

Personally, having the chance to work with an outstanding team to bring Idea Weekend to life, and see the wonderful passion of our employees, is yet another example of how General Mills allows each of us to follow our passion and supports new ideas and ways of tackling the changing world around us.