The concept of idea management is not new. There are few people in the workplace today that have not seen the age-old “Suggestion Box” used to gather employee ideas on how to improve the workplace, improve products or impact service. Over the years the success of this form of idea collection has deteriorated due to a plethora of reasons including lack of action by the employer, lack of engagement by the employees and a lack of transparency in the system. But all is not lost.
As employers continue to struggle in today’s global economy, the concept of idea management has found new champions in organizations looking to maximize the potential of their people. These employers have realized the time has come to unlock the power of their employees’ intellectual capital. The benefits of tapping into the minds of employees can be seen in the financial results of organizations, felt in the morale of locations, realized in reduced accidents and measured in improved productivity. Involving employees in the business process is a very tangible way for employers to demonstrate their commitment to the development of their people. It shows how employers view the organization as a team; not as “us versus them”.
Even with the advent of technology to submit and track employee suggestions and ideas, it still takes action by the Company’s leaders to build an effective idea management program. Implement these five suggestions to increase the effectiveness of your idea management program:
- Ask for employees’ input: it not simply enough to create a mechanism for employees to offer ideas. Asking employees for ideas on how to solve a specific issue will not only help speed the time of innovation, but will also show your belief in your team. Failing to communicate what you are looking for will get you suggestions on a whole gambit of ideas that you have no intention of addressing. Employees will then see your inaction on their suggestions as a lack of caring about their submissions. By providing focus, you are showing a genuine business interest in gaining your people’s help.
- Communicate the review process: Nobody wants to submit a suggestion and then have it go into a black hole of bureaucracy. Define what will happen to each suggestion; how it will be analyzed, when the employee will receive feedback and what recognition will be provided. Should the suggestion be implemented, recognize the employee who submitted the suggestion, and how the suggestion moved through the pipeline to reinforce the process. If the idea is not accepted or acted upon, provide honest feedback to the employee as to why the idea did not move further in the process.
- Nurture ideas once they have been submitted: if an idea opens up a dialogue, nurture it, let it grow and bring others in to the process to add their input. Consider including the employee who first suggested the idea as well to see how this idea can evolve. Many great innovations start with a single thought that then evolves into something impactful. Just because an idea may not be exactly what you are looking for does not mean it can’t be the starting point for a breakthrough with a little nurturing.
- Measure outcomes: No business initiative worth its salt should be implemented without some sort of measurement process. Idea management is no different. Measure the ROI on the cost of the program and the rewards provided, measure the increase in morale and engagement the program generates and measure the results of the ideas that are implemented. Without including a measurement process, idea management will move from a strategic initiative to a subjective initiative will little benefit to the either the employee or the Company.
- Include idea management into your strategic planning process: Nothing will generate more commitment to the process from top down than showing the organization’s total commitment to the process. Don’t take the chance that some departments will get behind this process while others will just wait for the winds to change. Show your commitment to your people by making their ideas part of your plan to develop your business.
While your competitors can copy your products, your methods and your systems, they can never copy the potential you possess in your relationships with your people and in the competence your team brings to the table. Your employees make up your single greatest competitive advantage. Make use of this advantage to its fullest capacity by tapping into their ideas, suggestions and dreams to help you build your business to the next level.