There’s a famous quote by Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson about how to create a culture of innovation. It is both deceptively simple and hard to execute at the same time.

According to Branson, “Innovation happens when people are given the freedom to ask questions and the resources and power to find the answers.”

It sounds simple, but putting it into practice typically is the tricky part.

That’s because while one study found that 82 percent of employees have ideas that can help a business reach its goals, only a third of employees feel their company listens to their ideas. This costs Fortune 500 companies approximately $31.5 billion each year in lost knowledge transfer, and much more if the net is expanded to include all companies in business today.

The takeaway from all this is that employees have a lot to give a business if only the business would better tap into the wisdom of its staff. That’s where crowdsourcing comes in.

The Basics of Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is a practice that has developed with the growth of social media and the rise of Millennials in the workforce as a way to gather the collective wisdom of a crowd for making decisions and solving problems.

From simple to complex, crowdsourcing can be as basic as a forum or as complicated as a voting system where those who have access to the platform can introduce ideas and all in the group can vote the ideas up or down. Through these platforms, the crowd promotes good ideas and ignores those that are less on target.

The crowdsourcing model is used to drive public problem-solving through platforms such as Reddit and Quora, and for knowledge base creation through sites such as Wikipedia. But it also can be used by companies to help encourage ideas and innovation.

BMW, for example, has used crowdsourcing to help redesign the interior of its cars, and Heineken has used crowdsourcing to get beer ideas and innovative thinking from customers, suppliers and partners.

The crowdsourcing model also can be used by companies for creating a space where employees’ knowledge transfer can take place more freely, something that’s done at IBM and many other tech companies today.

Why Businesses Should be Using Crowdsourcing with Employees

Beyond the example above about how employees can drive innovation and help each other solve problems more effectively, there also are a number of other reasons that businesses should be considering crowdsourcing with employees right now.

Boosts Employee Engagement. When employees have a voice through crowdsourcing initiatives, they’re participating in the direction of their company. Their voice matters, and they see that their voice matters. This typically gets employees more emotionally invested with their organization, which increases engagement. And engaged employees are twice as likely to be above-average workers.

Reduces Organizational Silos. The typical employee engages primarily with coworkers in his or her department. This reinforces organizational silos, reduces idea sharing, and creates tunnel vision within an organization. With crowdsourcing, however, employees can interact more easily with coworkers elsewhere in the business. This both reduces silos and creates a pan-departmental view of the organization as a whole.

Increases Company Transparency. When there’s a forum for employee ideas and a clear space where decisions are made, transparency within a company goes up. That’s important, because 96 percent of job seekers care about company transparency, and it is one of the most important demands among employees.

Improves Knowledge Retention. Studies have shown that collaborative learning like that which happens through crowdsourcing sticks with employees better. When employees learn directly from each other, they are more committed to applying this knowledge because it was given actual people and not just a web site or corporate manual.

Promotes a Culture of Teamwork. When employees are helping each other solve problems through an internal crowdsourcing platform, company culture shifts ever so slightly away from knowledge hoarding and self-interest, and moves towards public recognition and the reward of working together. This sets the stage for more teamwork.

Tools That Can Assist with Employee Crowdsourcing

While the crowdsourcing concept can be applied by organizations in many ways, including through the use of a simple internal company messaging board, specialized tools have developed over the years that help make it easy for businesses to crowdsource among employees.

Some of the leading tools you might want to try include:

1. Ideawake

A one-stop platform for engaging employees in crowdsourcing, Ideawake makes it easy for companies to post challenges that employees can take part in, collect and refine ideas through voting, and even award employees who give the best ideas.

The platform is purpose-built for internal crowdsourcing, coming with a slew of features that help decision makers save time and ultimately improve the ROI their organizations achieve from an internal ideation program over alternatives like email, spreadsheets, and Sharepoint.

The most time-consuming tasks commonly associated with managing an ideation program are automated, making it easy for managers to track, evaluate, and prioritize employee ideas with a few clicks.

2.  BugHerd

Crowdsourcing can be incredibly useful for bug reporting and marketing feedback, and BugHerd makes it simple for businesses to empower employees to collectively find bugs and suggest ways to improve company websites.

With BugHerd, employees can visually tag comments to parts of a web site to eliminate the need for screenshots, and feedback from employees can be automatically aggregated so marketing and devops teams can quickly hone in on what needs work.

3. Slab

Wikipedia is one of the best examples of crowdsourced knowledge sharing, and Slab makes it possible for companies to easily create internal wikis that are easy to update and share among employees.

Slab is visually intuitive, provides universal search and discovery functionality, and integrates with a wide variety of business tools that businesses already use, including Slack, Dropbox and Google Drive among others.

The business use cases for crowdsourcing are many, of course, and encompass more than just internal employee idea sharing and things like bug tracking. External crowdsourcing can help with brand messaging, customer feedback, product development and other areas. But leveraging crowdsourcing internally among employees is one of the most powerful and least used applications for the technology. Businesses that want to foster innovation and get more from their employees should take a hard look at the crowdsourcing concept and consider it for tapping into the wisdom of their workforce.