For years, companies of all shapes and sizes have utilized the power of the crowd to research, test, and drum up support for their products or service offerings. It makes sense — tapping into the external crowd can not only power idea generation at scale and in real time, but it can also drive engagement among your most important brand ambassadors.

Traditionally, market research has dictated that customers (or people like them) are always the best sources of information. By limiting yourself to this traditional way of thinking, you’re missing out on a rich vein of opportunity. One of the most influential crowds you have access to is your own workforce.

Achieving Lasting Business Outcomes From the Inside Out

Internal crowdsourcing is much the same as external crowdsourcing, except your “crowd” is made up of your own employees. There are generally three kinds of internal crowdsourcing solutions:

  • Crowdsourcing predictions: Forecasting business outcomes and trends that have an impact on your most important decisions (and are surprisingly accurate!)
  • Crowdsourcing ideas: Collecting ideas related to a new potential product offering (e.g., Starbucks approaching employees to brainstorm new drink ideas)
  • Crowdsourcing work tasks: Determining whether there’s a better way to get things done at your company

Each kind of crowdsourcing leads to transformational results. After all, your employees are often customers, too, and they live and breathe your business every day. Internal crowdsourcing can:

Keep your business relevant. Innovation is the proverbial brass ring in business. According to one PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, nearly 80 percent of CEOs believe their innovation developments will power efficiencies and produce a competitive advantage.

This dependence on innovation puts pressure on businesses to create something truly new — a task that’s increasingly difficult in the global economy. It’s crucial that companies tap into the pool of diverse perspectives and skill sets within their own walls to stay ahead of the curve and generate actionable ideas. And when you crowdsource your ideas internally, you can keep them hidden from prying eyes, thereby maintaining your competitive edge.

Give your employees a reason to stick around. According to Gallup, 87 percent of workers across the world are not engaged. Considering engagement is one of the most crucial driving factors behind company growth, this should alarm you. Disengaged employees are less productive and will likely leave their companies sooner, while engaged workers are more loyal, work harder, and stay at their companies longer.

If you’re not involving your employees in the decision-making process, you’re missing out on an opportunity to make them feel more involved, heard, and respected. This is especially true for crowdsourcing predictions: When you give employees a stake in decisions that directly impact them, they’ll be more invested in your company as a whole.

Keep your head out of the clouds. Customers often have cool ideas about your product or service, but they can also be highly biased or not fully informed (i.e., they don’t understand your business’s constraints).

On the other hand, your employees have the kind of collective wisdom and experience that customers simply cannot bring to the table. Plus, employees will be the ones implementing the ideas — they’ll likely skip the “pie in the sky” answers, or you can give them direct feedback if they are being unreasonable or seem overly biased.

Filter out the garbage. External crowdsourcing fails when a lack of control leads to unexpected results. In 2012, the White House began a social media initiative and crowdsourced questions for the president. Instead of receiving a healthy mix of queries, it was inundated with questions about marijuana legalization. Other brands have launched similar external crowdsourcing efforts and garnered very little in the way of actionable insights because the exercises have been so unstructured.

When you crowdsource internally, you can be very specific with your questions and briefs. Garbage in equals garbage out; this high level of control ensures you get the kind of feedback you’re looking for.

Give Your People a Seat at the Decision-Making Table

Now that you understand the transformational benefits of internal crowdsourcing, here are five ways you can successfully implement it in your company:

1. Bring typically external projects in-house. There are some crowdsourcing projects that seem perfect for an external audience — gauging market demand before making an investment, for example. But you’re doing your business a disservice if you don’t consult your employees, too.

Employees often have high-quality ideas and insightful predictions based on their experiences with your company (and across their careers), but they rarely have a chance to voice them. The next time you think about crowdsourcing hard problems or offering “open innovation” opportunities, consider what your community of internal brand ambassadors has to offer first

2. Establish executive buy-in. The C-suite is your first port of call when setting up internal crowdsourcing. It needs to be legitimately supported from the top down if it’s going to work — and not just in a token way. Your executives should be participating and interacting with your employee participants.

3. Anonymize the process. Team politics will inevitably play a role in a collective project, regardless of the company’s size. Mitigate the risk of negative politics affecting crowdsourcing contributions by giving people the option to participate anonymously. Employees should be able to contribute their perspectives without fear of judgment or repercussion.

4. Tie crowdsourcing to your larger strategies. An underlying thread should be linking each of your crowdsourcing efforts back to a broader initiative; otherwise, they won’t be meaningful or productive. So think about what you’re trying to achieve in your company — whether it’s fortifying your culture, diversifying your workforce, or building out a new facet of your brand — and make sure your crowdsourcing is a means to an end.

5. Emphasize the opportunity. To make the most of internal crowdsourcing, you need to make sure your people feel like they have the freedom to spend time on these projects, that their feedback is vital and interesting, and that it’s a legitimate part of their company contributions. When you get excited about the importance of each opportunity, you’ll infuse this mindset throughout your team.

Internal crowdsourcing offers a real return on investment, but more than that, it’s a chance to transform the way you do business — for the better. You’ll lower your risk of failure on major initiatives while increasing retention and morale. Maybe it’s time to consult your crowd.