Giving employees time at the office to work on independent projects can lead to valuable new tools. LinkedIn created a structured system that supports approved projects and gives employees up to 3 months to realize their idea.
Many Silicon Valley companies value employees’ creativity and leave some room for personal projects development within work hours, to encourage, foster and support innovation. Google for instance is famous for letting employees work 20% of their time on personal projects, and other tech companies are supporting such programs. LinkedIn has recently announced the development of their own LinkedIn [in]cubator to incubate internally projects from employees that are worth developing. Employees get a chance to pitch projects to LinkedIn executives, and if their project is approved, they get 3 months to work on it. According to project sponsor Kevin Scott, “[in]cubator was inspired by hackday, a Friday each month when employees are encouraged to work on just about anything they want.” Since there are only so many things one can do in a single day, the next step was to create more support for internal opportunities for employees to pitch ideas.
From office hackdays to a full-fledged project support system
The [in]cubator was itself the first project of this internal incubator. A group of employees who had won a few of the hackdays, known as “hackday masters,” promoted the idea, pitched it to executive staff, and got approval. The program has been piloted for several months, and judges of these projects include CEO Jeff Weiner, co-founder Reid Hoffman, and SVP of Products and User Experience Deep Nishar - as well as Scott, SVP of engineering. Initiatives like this hence give a chance to anyone in the company to pitch creative ideas to the leadership, or come up with specific solutions to internal issues. Participants from many departments (engineering, product, design, marketing, etc) have apparently already pitched ideas spanning many subjects from new product and business lines to infrastructure improvements, human resources programs, and others.
Supporting the implementation and sustainability of employee projects
While letting employees express their creativity is a great way to foster innovation in a large company, implementing those projects are a whole other level, which requires true support from management. LinkedIn’s [in]cubator aims at giving employees support from top-level staff, as well as keeps them looking to the next checkpoint. So far the LinkedIn executive judges have approved 5 projects, one of which is “an internal system for reserving meeting rooms and a toolkit for pointing out new features to users as they surf LinkedIn’s site.” In the program, projects are screened by the judges, and [in]cubator created checkpoints that verify viability at 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days, in order not only to implement those projects but also to assure sustainability in the long run.