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Collaborating With Employees to Develop Products

In the New York Times dated Nov. 23, 2009: IBM uses a collaborative approach with its employees to improve translations generated by its n.Fluent product, a machine translation system designed to facilitate near-instant translation of company messaging. Leveraging the increasingly sophisticated social-networking tools on the company’s Intranet, the company was able to get about 6,000 employees to participate in the project, providing improvements to 11 languages involving millions of words of text. Points were awarded to the largest contributors, which were converted into prizes donated to charitable organizations.

The process of using employees to develop products was termed “employee sourcing” as opposed to outsourcing. Another term for the process: crowd sourcing, although in this case the crowd is the company’s base of employees.

Our only question: why no awards for the employees who took the time to contribute? Our guess: company’s project managers thought they needed to be politically correct about noncash rewards when in fact recognition and support are critical to fostering ongoing participation in such efforts. According to the New York Times, the project management team heard that contributors would appreciate receiving “trinkets,” as well, which the company says it has now begun to institute.

The article author’s comment: “Something any six-year-old could have told you.”

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