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Dynamize Employer Brand Throughout Open Innovation

Innovation challenges are sweeping tools to create engagement and accelerate transformation. Your brand is innovative and open; supporting enthusiastic internal profiles can bring new ideas and projects to the company.

Dynamize Employer Brand Throughout Open Innovation

Dynamize Employer Brand Throughout Open Innovation

So how can we utilise this open innovation to increase internal and external branding?

Read on this article to:

  • Understand how to reinvent your customer experience through an open innovation challenge
  • Find out how to identify trends through innovating
  • Learn about accelerating your time to market through co-creation with external parties

Table of contents

What is an employer brand?
Why is the employer brand getting so much attention nowadays?
Open innovation as a tool for internal & external employer branding.
Why this article?
Partie 1: Open innovation at the service of internal employer brand
Pillars of internal employer brand: analyze your employees’ perception.
The open innovation as a tool for external employer brand
The five earnings of a challenge for your employer brand
Partie 2: Open innovation at the service of external employer brand
Millennials’ facial composite.
How does open innovation allow a company to adapt to the new expectations of young talents?


Who is this article for?

You are a Development Human Resources Manager, Human Resources Director, Internal Communication Director, University/ School Partnership Manager, and want to keep it easy?

What will you find?

This article delivers our learnings and best practices from 7 years of our experience organizing student and open innovation challenges for all-sectors companies and organizations.

We share our feedback on employees’ engagement via internal challenges, communication towards talents in recruitment’s goals, and reputation via student challenges.

If there are two lessons to take away?

Open innovation challenges are a tremendously effective way to get sustainable engagement towards a company, its values, and its brand.

Asking multidisciplinary teams to work and offer solutions to a company’s issues allows two things; arousing adhesion by communicating on a company’s goals and identifying high potentials among young graduates and employees.

What is an employer brand?

Employer brand is the perception people have of a company as an employer.

An employer’s perception depends on numerous criteria (work atmosphere, compensation policy, development opportunities, etc.). These criteria condition the professional fulfilment of the employees. Positive and negative elements allow a person to build an opinion on a company leading him/her to a candidate or not and be faithful to the employer or ns opinion or perception is employer brand. By employer brand, we also mean all the actions that aim to modify this perception positively.

Employer brand is not arithmetic. It is a general feeling a company sends towards its employees or potential candidates.

These strengths and weaknesses can be tangible (salary, financial perks) or psychological (wellness, blossoming or professional growth). Some elements are real (salary), and others result from one’s perception (for example, the company’s ethics).

We generally find a clear distinction between internal and external employer brand. It is actually a double-edged sword with different implications. One is focusing on the company’s employees (Internal), the other is aiming for potential candidates (external).

Why is the employer brand getting so much attention nowadays?

Generally speaking, companies are experiencing difficulties in hiring young talented people.

Various factors can explain this:

  • Companies highly seek some profiles, but the supply does not meet the demand;
  • Talent shortage generates tensions and increased competition between companies;
  • Generation Y’s arrival on the market followed by Generation Z is a game-changer: candidates’ requirements and aspirations are changing while HR departments must adapt quite quickly.

This paradigm shift gives us the following statement: It is pressing for companies to work and improve their employer brand to compete in the work market.

Open innovation as a tool for internal & external employer branding.

To answer these pressing issues of employer brand, innovation processes have been developed and validated.

Innovation challenges are sweeping tools to create engagement and accelerate transformation. Having hundreds of talented people work voluntarily is creating several things; your brand is seen as innovative and open, supporting enthusiastic internal profiles that can carry new ideas and projects for the company.

The challenge includes a communication plan towards a targeted audience (curriculum, profile, territories, etc.) and an action plan that allows the company to go from many projects to a selected few.

What is Open innovation?

Open Innovation was coined by Henry Chesbrough (Berkeley University, CA) in the early 2000s. The idea is quite simple: to innovate, a company can rely on its R&D department. Instead, the organization must call on new external (students, developers, startups, the general public) and internal (employees of every department) profiles. Innovation arises from the different profiles that challenge themselves to find solutions to a problem.

Open innovation in a broader sense. It can be technological innovations (new products, processes, patents) or services innovations, uses or even HR innovations (new ways to attract and recruit talents).


Open innovation efforts put employees right in the middle of the company’s strategy. The goal is to sustain the company’s activities by:

  • Creating an employee-centric corporate culture
  • Raising the team member’s retention rate (talented minds do not leave to join the competitive)
  • Creating innovations (products and services, uses, operational performances, internal performances, well-being at work, etc.)

These collaborative open innovation efforts directly involve employees. It is proven to be a great motivational tool that creates a good work atmosphere by promoting innovation.

Open innovation challenge

Open innovation challenge


Open innovation challenges are tremendous opportunities to discover activities, stakes, values, and teams in an organization. As explained, the external employer brand is the perception of your company by candidates. Open innovation events influence perception by showing the company the way one wants to be shown. Control this perception by displaying positive aspects of your business.

To be efficient, the effort needs to be ongoing: launching challenges only when you are in need is like extinguishing a fire. Employer brand is making sure that the ire does not start, defusing the crisis before it even begins.

What is an open innovation challenge?

An open innovation challenge is a competition inviting participants to reveal their most relevant and innovative idea to a social or business issue. Created by a public or private organization, this colossal call for projects generally lasts several weeks or months. It starts online on a SaaS platform and ends with a physical event.

Participants can be startups or individuals that form multidisciplinary teams in order to create their solutions. Usually, there are three steps in a challenge: IDEATION, DEEPENING, and FINAL.

Steps of a challenge

Step 1: Ideation Participants are teaming up and deliver a solution draft. The organizing company selects the best teams/ideas to develop.

Step 2: Deepening Supported by the company’s employees, participants sharpen their concept and work the details. The company selects finalist teams.

Step 3: Pitch and final In a huge physical event, finalists pitch their projects in front of a jury named the winning team.

Why this article?

We simply want to share good practices and education from years of experience. Since 2011, we accompany and advise companies with open innovation to build and handle their employer brand in an innovative way.

Whether you already have a great reputation or are quite unknown: we are convinced that this collaborative and participative approach is a powerful leverage that can make you (re)discover and appreciate a brand, internally and externally.

Finally, open innovation is a philosophy much more in adequation with the expectations that new generations of candidates have: transparency, collaboration, and training. Open innovation approaches show that you understand Y and Z generations’ yearnings and you care about them.

Here is our advice to boost your internal and external employer brand throughout open innovation!

Partie 1: Open innovation at the service of internal employer brand

Internal employer branding is the way your own employees perceive your brand as an employer. Concretely, it is the opinion they have of the company they are working for. This opinion is decisive for two reasons:

  • To retain talents that already work at your company. If your collaborators are not satisfied with their working conditions or if they are not blossoming: they might leave you for a company where the grass is greener.
  • To make the employees ambassadors of your company. There is no better argument to attract and hire talented people that a happy team member. It will be a great asset if your team member starts talking your company up to talents and potential candidates by himself.

War by himself for talent is going on. Your competitors won’t just actively look for talents. They will also solicit talents who could benefit from new opportunities and did not even ask to be canvassed. Potentially, we are talking about your collaborators. They might offer them better working conditions and more interesting career perspectives. That is why you need to take action, and quite fast.

To do just that, you need to start taking care of the pillanal employer brand brands pillar to understand your employees’ perception of the company.

Pillars of internal employer brand: analyze your employees’ perception.

The starting point of every open innovation approach is analysis. You need to know your employees’ expectations and yearnings. The more the analysis is elaborate, the more data you collect, the more you will precisely know where your company is, internal employer brand-wise.

The 3 pillars of employer brand:

  • Well-being and blossoming. Engagement, motivation, recognition, valorization, work environment, etc. Every single element that makes your employees happy to wake up and come work for you. These are key elements for employees’ retention.
  • Welfare and financial benefits. Salaries, bonuses, raises, sick days, profit sharing, telework, etc. Every single advantage that you give to your employees is improving the perception they have of your brand. They want to keep working for you.
  • Career perspective and on-going training. Collaborators must feel that they have a career perspective within the company. On-going training is a great way to develop their skills. It is essential to offer a real stimulating career plan to your employees.

The topic of your open innovation challenge will arise from this analysis.

Example: if the analysis reveals that collaborators don’t feel that they can have an input in the company’s strategy, ask them to contribute to the development and transformation of the latter.

Your challenge’s thematic could be: suggest new activities’ ideas, new products or new service for the company.

Ideally, you put an internal quiz together in order to ask your employees how they feel and how they perceive your brand before the challenge. If it is too complex to involve all of your collaborators: pick a representative sample that covers every department of your organization. Reminder: no one will answer the survey if it is not anonymous.

Down below are lines of approach to explore. Identify the current state of your internal employer brand and aspects to improve:

Well-being and blossoming.

  • Do the employees feel that their work has an impact on the company’s development and activities? Do they feel important to the company?
  • Do they consider that their work is valued enough?
  • Do they feel heard? Do they feel that their opinions and ideas are considered enough?
  • Is teamwork encouraged, if not facilitated?
  • Are the employees motivated by their work? Do they think they have enough responsibilities?
  • Simply put: Are they happy to come at work in the morning?

Welfare and financial benefits.

  • Do the employees consider that their compensation matches the work and skills they bring to the company?
  • Are they satisfied with their bonuses and pay rises?
  • What about benefits like profit-sharing, participation bonuses, reduction of working hours, works council, telework, etc.?

Career perspective and on-going training.

  • Are the employees satisfied with their career perspective and promotions within the company?
  • Can the employees do ongoing training and learn new skills? Are they encouraged to do so?
  • Are there possibilities of geographic mobility within the organization? What about mobility between departments?
  • Obviously, some companies are already aware of internal existing problems. In which case they don’t need a survey to make the subject of their challenge emerge.

The open innovation as a tool for external employer brand

An open innovation challenge is a tool that allows a company to handle change. Once the internal employer brand’s problems identified, solutions from your employees’ collaboration will emerge from this approach.

Open innovation puts the team member at the heart of this transformation instead of imposing a change without soliciting them. Implementing projects is way easier when you already have the support of your employees. They would even want to participate in the launch of projects because they actually have created these projects. In this way, you’re minimizing the failure rate.

The five earnings of a challenge for your employer brand

5 main reasons make an open innovation challenge a powerful tool to boost your internal employer brand.

Improve satisfaction, well-being, and engagement with your collaborators.

A challenge is a great way to put back your employees in the heart of the company’s strategy, and show them that you actually care. The lack of engagement is often the result of them feeling neglected within the organisation. They feel that they are not important or valued enough, leading to a lack of motivation.

Open innovation has a proven record of preventing these risks or resolving this matter. 2 reasons vouch for this:

  • You give the floor to your employees and put light on their ideas.
  • You show them that, instead of imposing solutions to the problems they can internally have, they can be agents of change.

If your open innovation approach registers in time, the last points are paramount. They are great leverage to improve satisfaction, well-being, and engagement.

The more the thematics are open, the more participants you will have, and the ideas will be diversified.

  • Rethink the work environment.
  • Identify a new growth lever.
  • Imagine tomorrow’s service or product.
  • Improve teams’ well-being.
  • etc.

Allow your employees to become internal entrepreneurs

What’s best to improve your collaborators’ satisfaction than allowing them to launch an internal entrepreneurial project. The open innovation challenge is the first step towards a successful intrapreneurial approach. It allows a company to identify projects and to spot internal talents with great potential.

The idea is quite simple: you might be sleeping on a buried treasure that only asks to be discovered. A team member of yours might already have imagined the next big lever growth for your company, whatever the department he/she works in. There are ideas and the necessary motivation to lead a project. It is your job to let their speak their mind because you might be passing on the asset that will shake your competitors.

An open innovation challenge is a perfect tool to make glow the people who hide beneath the surface. Your employees are forming teams working on innovative projects, putting pen to paper for a few weeks. They explain how their idea could benefit the company and how to implement what they have in mind. You just have to select the best ones and give them the green light to make their project happen.

What is Intrapreneurship?

Intrapreneurship is a company approach that allows collaborators to build and lead internal projects even if they are not linked to their job. In a nutshell, you launch startups within the company. The intrapreneur is still a team member but exempted from their job’s responsibilities to focus on their project.

The goal?

To explore new developing leads, find new growth levers, or even accelerate the company’s digital transformation. It is all about winning inefficiency and going fast: to do just that, nothing is better than working in project mode.

Retain internal talents

The well-being and engagement from collaborators in the company’s life are two key factors in retaining talents.

It is indeed becoming more and more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to recruit. In this shortage/war on talents, the loyalty of collaborators is an absolute priority. It is exactly at this moment that an internal employer brand shows its importance.

If the working environment is at peace, benevolent, and that your talents feel heard and valued; there is no reason for them to go anywhere else.

That is why participative and collaborative innovation approaches must register in time. Launching a punctual operation is already a positive sign sent to your employees. But making it an internal process for decisions that affect your employees and the company’s strategy is a way of retaining your talents.

Upgrade your employees to brand ambassadors

Happy and faithful employees will talk about the company is a great way to their close ones. There is a bridge between internal and external employer brand.

Your achievements, internal successes, and your employees’ blossoming are a display for your external employer brand. Both are related: what better way to attract the best candidates than having satisfied and motivated collaborators?

Partie 2: Open innovation at the service of external employer brand

Millennials’ facial composite.

Every generation shakes the working world in its own way. Shaped by technology and globalization, millennials entered the work market with requirements and a different vision of a company’s life. Generation Z, centennials, digital natives, and slashers. Loads of whimsical denominations that enrich a pouring HR taxonomy. Generation Z represents 16 million people in France, every youngster born in the ’90s, and ready to enter the active professional life. A rising number of them aspire to work for a startup or start an entrepreneurial adventure, fleeing major established companies.

This generation is different from the last ones. It values work-life aspects that once were upstage:

  • Flexibility
  • On-going learning and training
  • Mobility
  • Fun and playful atmosphere

Millennials do not have a strong sense of belonging towards their employer: they will invest in a project more than in the company itself. «A vision for the economy of 2040» – an inquiry made by the Roosevelt Institute and the Kauffman Foundation – says that in the U.S, freelances represent 34% of the workforce today.

More connected than everyone else, millennials instinctively use technologies for almost everything, including job hunting. To recruit them, you need to be mobile-friendly; 74% already use their mobile to job hunt, 40% for other generations. 69% have a good opinion about organizations that use mobile recruiting (51% for other salaried employees). Finally, 40% expect recruiters to use different mobiles techniques (texting for example) during the recruitment, 23% for other generations (IBM Smarter Workforce Institute 2015’s inquiry).

Another substantial differentiation element: salary is not the main focus in job consideration. For 63% of the French population, it is the most important thing (just behind well-being at work). For 18 to 24 years-old people: the atmosphere is king (Randstad’s Employer Brand Research of 2017)

  1. Knowledge thirst: Only 7,5% of young people from 15 to 20 years old estimate that knowledge will be learned in school for the next 10 years.
  2. Teamwork: Generation Z values teamwork and collaboration. A static organization that works in silos would be disappointing.
  3. Work atmosphere: At the equal position, 25% of generation Z’s members would choose a «fun» company, 22% an innovative one, and only 10% a prosperous one.
  4. Project management: Generation Z’s professional success is based on well-being at work. Young people would prefer diversified missions and projects over a linear sequence of tasks.
  5. Geographical mobility: More than two-thirds of young people (15-20 years old) see themselves working abroad during their career.
  6. Self-success: To 72% of Z, the most important is to be proud of yourself. The perception others have does not matter that much. Furthermore, 47% of them have a desire to found their own company.

They inform themselves differently and do not have the same values as former generations. They want to work for a company with a playful atmosphere. They want to work on projects first, in a flexible and digital environment. They have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and are not quite faithful to companies that hire them.

How does open innovation allow a company to adapt to the new expectations of young talents?

For years, we have been looking at a paradigm shift in HR to recruit passively active candidates. Nowadays, we need to recruit actively passive candidates. By this, understand that you hunt talents where they are and use new recruitment tools. It is precisely on this point that employer brand and open innovation challenges are incredibly efficient tools.

Indeed, challenges improve your external employer brand in three separate but complementary ways.

Offering and experience reflecting millennials’ professional expectations:

Organizing an open innovation challenge shows that you understand Y and Z’s expectations by adapting your methods, making the challenge a formidable tool for your employer brand.

Y and Z’s expectations: On-going learning and training

Explanation: Contrary to their parents and grandparents, Z & Y know that they will have multiple careers. Indeed, the work nature is changing, and today more than yesterday, we need to easily and quickly adapt. The need to learn and acquire new skills to prepare your future is becoming vital to them.

Answering a challenge: It is the perfect occasion to learn by working within multidisciplinary teams. It is also mainly working on real and actual business problematics, winning professional experience.

Y and Z’s expectations: Working in Project Mode

Explanation: Generation Z wants to work on projects, not for a company. Career is not about a linear evolution with a specific task but loads of different missions.

Answering by a challenge: That is the reason Y & Z relate to the open innovation challenge format. They have the opportunity to work on a project, a precise thematic. They can see their ideas/ solutions put together within the company.

Y and Z’s expectations: Feeling valued and useful

Explanation: Generations that just entered or are going to enter the work market are waiting to be stimulated, playing an important part in the company’s development. Give them the opportunity, and they will break the company’s door down. From there, the only way is up.

Answering by a challenge: You let them speak and you are offering them the possibility to show their creativity and skills. The idea here is to put the projects to use after the challenge.

Y and Z’s expectations: Teamwork

Explanation: Project and teamwork go hand in hand. Y & Z do not want to be shut in, alone in their voice. Nowadays, even freelancers are getting together in co-working spaces to enjoy creative emulation.

Answering by a challenge: By organizing an open innovation challenge, you show them that teamwork is a cherished value within your organization. During a challenge, talents are teaming up, and everyone has something to say.

Y and Z’s expectations: Fun and playful atmosphere

Explanation: At the equal position, 25% of generation Z’s members would choose a «fun» company, 22% an innovative one, and only 10% a prosperous one. This proves how much priorities have changed in the last few decades. It is not only money and career perspectives that are interesting to them, but also well-being at work. More than ever, the atmosphere is a fundamental aspect of their blossoming.

Answering a challenge: Atmosphere does not enact. But you can encourage the alchemy by gathering students and fresh graduates from everywhere, so they can use their imagination at their most.

Y and Z’s expectations: Facilitating work by using technology

Explanation: Whatever is the problem that you’re meeting, there is an app to solve it. By caricaturing, the state of mind of Y & Z. They love technology and are at ease with innovation, especially when they facilitate their day-to-day life.

Answering by a challenge: 90% of an open innovation challenge is unfolding online, most of them on SaaS platforms. They allow participants to work online using digital intuitive tools.

By making your jobs, values, and collaborators discovered:

As time goes by, new technologies are accelerating, and new jobs are seeing the day. They did not exist 15, 10, or even 5 years from now, but they are inescapable today. Take the data scientists and chief data officers; these are profiles so in demand today that we actually have a shortage.

And unfortunately for major companies, it is even harder to fill these new positions. Students and graduates usually have no idea that these jobs exist within the biggest (and oldest) organizations. They instinctively focus on startups and SMEs.

Open innovation challenges are a lever towards improving this aspect of their employer brand. Indeed, they allow the most technical jobs – specific and less known – to be discovered. Therefore displaying an innovative aspect.

In addition to jobs, it is a great opportunity to convey your values. The topic choice is a great indicator of what is important to you; technical, social, environmental, etc.

Finally, during a challenge, your collaborators are coaching participating teams. This first informal contact between your employees and the candidates is a way to introduce future employees to actual ones. This is anything but significant in an era where goodwill and good atmosphere are fundamentals of projects and companies successes.

By minimizing recruitment mistakes:

Recruiting is expensive, making recruitment mistakes even more. Open innovation challenges allow gaining time and minimizing risks by focusing on human relations.

Indeed, it would be unfortunate to forget the human aspect of HR. Because beyond hard skills (measurable and demonstrable technical skills), soft skills (personality and human qualities) are primary in filling a position. Take the most qualified engineer you can find, the one who went through the best schools, technically lawless; if he/she cannot interact with colleagues and work within a team, the result will be disastrous.

The best algorithm in the world will not help you avoid these recruiting mistakes. It won’t tell you if a candidate has empathy, creativity, or can work within a team. Whereas learning about candidates by testing them is the best way to identify these soft skills.

It is actually great news for modern recruiters because their job is becoming more and more rewarding. Open innovation challenges are perfect opportunities to test these soft skills. Participants are working as teams on targeted business issues; the recruiter just needs to monitor candidates’ level of involvement, motivation, and adaptation capacities. And not to lose sight of hard skills, submitted projects are on the table, ready to be judged. It is also an opportunity for the candidate to have an idea about the employer’s personality.

To sum up, these new recruiting tools bring two major advantages:

Emphasizing relational is a delight to the modern recruiter. This is a long-term vision for any company. There is a need to realise that successful recruitment is not just making sure that the back office does not stay dusty for long. It is a success and growth lever for companies, a major asset for sustainability.


In an employer brand context, an open innovation challenge is a powerful promotion and communication tool. Contrary to the numerous internet services that emerged since the ’90s (Career Builder, Regions Job, LinkedIn), it goes beyond the simple resume deposit. Hackathons are based on an open innovation concept popularized around 2010, at the beginning of companies’ digital transformation. These days, new technologies had brought the creation of an array of new jobs (tech, IT, web development). Yet, candidates who are supposed to ill these positions do not know the companies that want to hire them.

Since then, companies are organizing open innovation challenges to seduce, attract, and recruit young talents within their teams. The organizing company is showcasing its internal culture and values. Furthermore, it has the opportunity to watch potential candidates in action: technical skills, interpersonal intelligence, and communication dexterity. Finally, the structure targets participants that are complementary to their working teams. Participants can participate in a stimulating competition while getting spotted and rewarded if they make it to the final.

Following the inbound recruitment logic, an open innovation challenge is an event that acts as a showcase for the company’s employer brand. Branded with the employer’s image and supported by a good communication plan, the challenge can touch thousands of potential candidates.

Source: Agorize