Software Development

Fostering healthy competition: the secret to innovating at pace

28 June 2024 • 6 min read

A close up of a dartboard with four darts

Innovation is a continual challenge for organisations - regardless of size or scale - and it can often feel as though your latest and greatest accomplishments are quickly eclipsed, particularly in fast-moving fields like Generative AI (GenAI) – an area of technology where the capabilities of companies and the needs of their people and customers are often mis-aligned. 


A lack of innovation is holding companies back when it comes to AI


This divide is well illustrated by some sobering statistics from Microsoft’s 2024 Work Trend Index which revealed that while 75% of white collar employees use AI at work in some capacity, only 33% of employers actually pay for at least one AI tool for their organisation. What’s more, the same study highlights that while 79% of business leaders feel that AI adoption is critical to stay competitive, 60% of them also worry that their company lacks a vision for AI and - as a result - a clear implementation strategy. 

Our own research into the opinions of CEOs backs up these findings. 33% of the 600 CEOs we polled admitted to banning AI tools in their business, despite the fact that 45% of respondents also admitted to secretly passing off outputs from ChatGPT as their own work. It’s no wonder then that a sizable number of people find AI so valuable to the work they do that they’re prepared to pay for it themselves and ‘smuggle’ it in because they’re not prepared to wait for companies to get their act together.

All of this begs the question, “How can organisations upskill their people and foster AI innovation that delivers employee empowerment, engagement, and lasting business value?”.


Harnessing competition and curiosity to foster innovation at pace


We spent time considering this very question…and the answer we arrived at…what if we harnessed the innate power of friendly competition and paired it with the boundless curiosity of our people? The end result was our very own Custom GPT Competition, where 22 teams (totalling more than 100 people) comprising both technical and non-technical people from across the business combined their talents and creativity to create innovative generative pre-trained transformers (GPTs): a type of machine learning algorithm that uses deep learning and a large database of training text in order to generate new text in response to a user's prompt.

The end goal was not only to make AND a better company by solving some of our most enduring business challenges, but also to learn new AI skills along the way, as well as bag themselves some fun experiential prizes.

It was interesting to repeatedly observe that similar pain-points were identified across the business by the various teams. While this made the judging process tougher because of the similar use-cases to consider, it also provided valuable insights we can take forward. Some of the recurring themes include; career development, matching skills to client requirements, overcoming scheduling challenges, streamlining the onboarding process, accelerating the bid writing process, and teaching new skills in interactive ways.

The GPT competition has been an amazing way to surface our AI enthusiasts in the business, to witness an array of brilliant ideas to make AND a better place to work, as well as support our mission to close the world’s digital skills gap by growing the AI skills of our own people and teams. This has resulted in 3 GPTs that will be built and integrated into our own AI assistant.

Now you understand the ‘what’, you’re probably wondering about the ‘how’. Read on to learn our 6 key steps for building a successful competition.


6 steps for building a successful competition 


(1) Setting goals


We started by setting clear goals for the competition: “Help to cultivate a deeper understanding of generative AI and its applications, by encouraging participants to explore and innovate with GPT models.” This gave our participants a North Star to aim for and also meant there was a clear understanding of the parameters in which they needed to innovate, helping to accelerate speed to value.


(2) Defining a structure


We worked hard to make sure that participants had a clear structure to work to, competing in teams of 3 - 7, working collaboratively and balancing out different preferences and skillsets. Using GPT technology in a practical way, creating GPTs relevant to use-cases in AND. We also ensured that there was a timebox to the competition that was clearly communicated, accompanied by clear judging criteria encompassing: creativity, innovation, technical implementation, and overall impact. This ensured a level playing field and a sense of fairness for all participants.


(3) Creating ethical guardrails


It’s important to remember that just because we can do something, that doesn’t mean that we should. The era of “move fast and break things” is decidedly over, we’ve broken enough things. That’s why we made it clear that all GPTs our participants developed had to comply with our ethical standards for AI, ensuring that GPTs were developed using permitted, tested technologies, did not compromise our data privacy or security policies, and were developed with the principles of responsibility, accountability, transparency, security, and ethics.


(4) Driving engagement


We developed a comprehensive internal communications plan with frequent milestones and checkpoints that were communicated to the participants. This served to build excitement and sustain momentum as we guided them throughout the contest period, ensuring that engagement from both participants and the wider business continued right up until the submission deadline.


(5) Learning and iterating


Post-competition reviews were conducted to gather feedback, identify opportunities for enhancement, and define best practices that can inform future iterations of the competition. We’re keen to use this as a platform to learn ourselves and discover how a competitive approach can be harnessed beyond AI to bring innovation to other areas of the business.


(6) Celebrating success


Following the competition, promo posts were created and shared on key channels including LinkedIn, internal prominent AND Slack channels to showcase the competition winners, highlight standout submissions, and celebrate the collective achievements of the participants, nurturing our culture of recognition and innovation within AND.


3 top tips to empower your people to innovate


  1. Give people time - striking the right work/life balance can be tricky at the best of times, throw in side-of-desk projects and you’ve got a recipe for burnout. That’s why it’s critical to make sure you’re giving people ring-fenced time - within their normal working hours - to focus on innovation. We achieve that through 12 Wonder, Share, Delight days per annum that can be used to work on innovative projects (amongst other things) but you’ll need to consider what works best for your organisational context. From a cost/benefit perspective this time might have an immediate cost, but will pay dividends in the long-term from the productivity gains you realise.

  2. Give people resources - innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, if people don’t have access to the right tools they can’t build the right solutions. Before you launch into a competition, an accelerator, or an incubator, consider what resources your people will need to put their best foot forward. In our case that meant ensuring people had access to the requisite custom GPT licences, as well as technical training (as required), and self-serve toolkits to help them on their journey. Needs will vary from organisation to organisation so make sure you think carefully about what you’ll need to provide to set your people up for success.

  3. Incentivise innovation - passionate, driven individuals will often pour their heart and soul into projects that energise them. However, that’s not something that you can count on for every team member. It’s important to recognise that motivation looks different for everyone and to account for that in your planning. Make sure you’re offering some incentives that work with your company culture – that might be experiences, financial incentives, or even time in lieu to account for the work people have put into innovation. It’s worth starting with some user research to ensure you understand what makes your people tick. In our case, we only needed to invest a relatively modest sum of money in some really desirable experiential prizes to drive high levels of engagement and great results that will have a real business impact.


Software Development

Related Posts