3 basic rules to make your people’s ideas count

Posted on: October 17, 2012 by Jordi Safont Guillen

It is an old mantra that successful organizations have relied on motivated employees as one of their key competitive levers. But what are the factors that keep your front ranks motivated? Listening to what they have to say and putting in action their ideas seems a good way to start. Employees actually have a lot of suggestions that an organization can use to improve. However, many corporate initiatives intended to unleash this potential fail to deliver the expected results. Why is that? Aren’t employees willing to take part in ‘best idea’ programs? Is it that managers don’t really care about what their workforce is telling them? Far from it, many organizations start this type of programs with the best intentions, but they fail for several reasons:

- Lack of governance: There is not a clear governance model that can help manage the whole idea lifecycle. Actually collecting the ideas is the easiest part, but then filtering them, providing feedback, or funding and implementation are the trickiest parts to manage.

- Lack of scope and knowledge: Without further constraint, most submitted ideas will revolve around hygiene issues, but this isn’t necessarily the type of internal innovation that the organization is expecting from their ranks. Sometimes it is the lack of knowledge that makes an idea impractical or ill advised, as its consequences and impact are not fully considered. It is for those reasons that even advocates of free innovation acknowledge that there must be some governance to get ideas that are actionable and can make a real business difference .

- Lack of accountability: Who is responsible for implementing the idea? This is one of the banes of corporate idea programs, lack of ownership and accountability. In fact it is related to the previous two issues. On the one hand the process and accountability for the different stages of idea management are not clear, and on the other the scope is often too ambitious, not thoroughly understood or requires such an investment than nobody can really commit to it.

So are organizations doomed for their idea initiatives? Not at all. In fact they are a vital part of quality oriented and innovative organizations, as well as an excellent tool to foster participation and a sense of ownership among employees. Here is a list of three basic rules that can help in the process:

1) Set the scope

Give some general direction. Do not make it too tight but make it clear what is out of bounds and what is not. A meaningful issue should address a topic that can improve the team or the group work.

2) You say it, you implement it

It is not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. By setting this expectation a lot of ill informed ideas will be filtered out even before being proposed, saving the efforts for those that can be truly implemented, usually in the area of expertise of the promoter.

In fact, the best activities are those that can be carried out by the team with their own means, and need only the approval of their direct manager with minimum if any investment required. Stay away of cumbersome processes with several stages and decision makers will take a long time to implement, create bottle necks and in the end kill the spirit of the initiative and the team.

If the idea works and makes a difference, then expanding the implementation scope can be considered, seeing where else can it be of use. Don’t worry too much about convincing others, if it improves the workplace, word of mouth is your most effective communication tool.

Just one final consideration on this rule: it is not fair to ask people to contribute only on their out-of-office time. Being fair with contributors’ time is the best way to ensure that people will be more willing to participate, provide leadership and facilitate the groups’ work.

3)Recognize contributors

Everyone loves recognition. Giving the opportunity to present the results of the initiative to the management is a very nice way to praise the team for their effort and get some visibility for the work done. Some financial rewards can also be considered for successfully implemented ideas.

To sum it up, there are three simple rules that can be used to help any organization in their idea programs implementation. Unfortunately, following them does not guarantee that organizations profit from all the business potential of internally generated ideas, but is this really the objective organizations should be aiming at?

The answer is probably not, as the ultimate goal should be creating learning organizations, based in a culture in which people feel motivated to improve their working environment with a practical focus. If that is the approach followed, working with people’s ideas is indeed a fantastic way to nurture this cultural shift, and the three rules presented can be very effective in activating this powerful lever.

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About Jordi Safont Guillen
IT consultant manager and member of the Scientific Community
Jordi has more than 15 years of experience in IT consulting and he is one of the founding members of the Scientific Community. His assignments have been mostly related to organizational transformation programs in a variety of industries and geographies, mainly focused on business process improvement and IT innovation. Although based in Spain, Jordi enjoys working with international teams and having the opportunity to share his views and experience with colleagues with different professional backgrounds and cultures.

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