Idea Weekend ignites that inner passion within employees to step forward with their ideas, build connections and make an amazing impact in 27 hours. Participants pitch their ideas, select finalists, self-form teams, lead, and present to senior executives. Idea Weekend is simple and can be done in any organization.
One of the world's leading food companies, General Mills operates in more than 100 countries and markets more than 100 consumer brands, including Cheerios, Häagen-Dazs, Nature Valley, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Old El Paso, Progresso, Yoplait, Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen, and more. General Mills is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota and has more than 39,000 employees worldwide.
Global Business Solutions (GBS) is a division within General Mills that encompasses many of the shared services that support the company including Information Systems, Financial Shared Services, HR Shared Services, Continuous Improvement, Workplace Solutions, Real Estate and Global Operations.
We were missing out on some great employee ideas, which, when harnessed, would not only move our business forward but encourage our employees to engage more fully and harness their passion and creativity.
Innovation is a corporate and IT strategy for General Mills and the concept of Idea Weekend was introduced to engage employees and spark new ideas. Our first Idea Weekend was held in October 2012 and it far exceeded all expectation in both the ideas and the impact it had on employee engagement. The top two projects were given the opportunity to present to the business who believed in the idea so much that they are now funded projects in active development.
Building on a very successful launch, we held the second Idea Weekend in April 2013 and yet again it completely blew our socks off regarding the quality of ideas, excitement of employees and engagement of our executives who judged the final presentations. The judges were so inspired that they are now partnering to help champion each of the top ideas move forward and become a reality.
The biggest challenge has been spreading the message about Idea Weekend throughout the organization, especially beyond our immediate division. The first Idea Weekend was heavily weighted to individuals from our GBS division with only a handful of business partners. The insight we saw in that first Idea Weekend was that the teams that made the most progress and created the most excitement were the ones that combined individuals from GBS with our business partners.
We actively worked to balance the participants for the second Idea Weekend and spent more time reaching out to our business partners. The team still has more work to do build awareness and make inroads into additional parts of the business but we are excited at the challenge and are working to find champions within those organizations to join forces as we prepare for our next Idea Weekend.
Fifteen participants from the second Idea Weekend have stepped forward, both GBS and business partners, to say they would love to be involved in helping lead future Idea Weekends. In addition, at least three business partners are actively working on bringing an Idea Weekend to their home division -- The movement continues to grow and the message is spreading throughout the organization.
The benefits go well beyond the ideas. The excitement, energy, passion and creativity shown by the employees is outstanding. They have the chance to work with others they don't normally interact with, create connections across the organization and work in roles that may be very different then their typical job. We believe the connections created during Idea Weekend will last well into the future and for some throughout their career. Idea Weekend reaffirms our commitment to innovation and encourages employees to continue to bring forward ideas. The ultimate goal is to foster an innovative culture that transitions innovation from Idea Weekend into everyday habits the spark new ideas ongoing.
The effort is less than a year old but the impacts can already be seen in the projects that have formed out of ideas created during Idea Weekend, the support that is present across our leadership ranks and the division-wide awareness of Idea Weekend. After each event we survey our participants and the direct feedback is remarkable. Here are just a few actual quotes from participants:
"Idea Weekend was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at General Mills. For about 36 hours, you get the chance to pursue innovation with no barriers. It’s so refreshing to spend uninterrupted time on one idea – it allowed me to see that nearly anything is possible when you have a great idea, passion and a smart team." - Sr. Planner - Interactive Marketing
"Idea Weekend was the most fun I've had at work in a long time - and I've been telling everyone in ITQ just that! The chance to choose what to work on, to work with extremely motivated team members from functions I don't normally get to work with, the feeling that our team could make a real impact on General Mills business, and just being with a bunch of intensely focused people for 2 days was exhilarating and had me coming in on Monday excited to tell my management team about it. After hearing how energized I was, I am getting enthusiastic and full support to hold a similar event over in R&D." - R & D Senior Manager
"Idea Weekend represents a unique opportunity to bring those ideas forward that are still in ‘incubator’ status, to a SWAT team of experts who work over the course of 36 hours to vet and prototype the solution. Both professionally and personally, it’s one of my favorite weekends of the year!" - Sales Project Leader
Much more than just about the Ideas: Going into the first Idea Weekend, the emphasis for us was thinking about the ideas that would be generated. In reality, the outcome was so much broader and in my opinion, much more impactful for the organization. The individual ideas were great and many are moving forward but seeing the excitement, energy, relationships and knowledge that was sparked is a component that will be a lasting impact on the participants. The crowd sourcing nature of the voting for the finalists and the self-forming teams allowed us to expand our leadership capacity throughout the organization. As one participant remarked, in what other experience would it be possible for a new college hire to be in a team as the leader and giving work direction to a senior manager. In this event, it didn't matter who had the hierarchy authority, everyone was equal and had the chance to step up and lead the part where they were most qualified.
Participation Makeup: The teams who developed the best ideas and gained the most knowledge were cross functional. In our second event, we limited the numbers of individuals from the home division to two-thirds and then reserved one-third for employees from other divisions. This created an atmosphere where participants were able to learn much more from each other, build new relationships and better understand different parts of our business.
Timing: Our format starts at 9:00 am on Friday morning and go through Saturday afternoon with presentations wrapped up by 5 pm. We have had really good feedback from participant that they like this format but we also know that it just doesn't work for some employees to give up part of their weekend. One idea that we will look to try at some point will be to hold it completely during the work week. The initial thought of the core team is that the commitment of the participants will be higher with the Friday/Saturday format but we will only know for sure after we try it.
Idea Weekend is a grassroots effort that was created and championed by General Mills employees Tim Huebsch, Eugene Burd, Jim Lesch, and Mark Zuchowski.
Concept and structures were adapted and enhance from experiences learned through Startup Weekend.
Sparking employee innovation - General Mills Blog
Innovation starts with One Good Idea -- General Mills Blog
General Mills rocks Idea Weekend 2.0 - TECHdotMN