Employees can generate great ideas, if you let them

Employees can generate great ideas, if you let them

According to a recent survey conducted by the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Management, organisations that build a systematic innovation capability have a competitive advantage over those that do not.

As Tony Gleeson, CEO of the Victorian and Tasmanian arms of the Australian Institute of Management, highlighted: “We found that firms with proven innovation performance were three times more likely to have higher revenue growth, profitability and productivity. Such firms were also three times more likely to report higher levels of cashflow, cost advantages and long-term competitive advantage.”

So far no great surprises here, as this finding backs up other research studies. However, what I did find interesting was the source of ideas for innovation.

The research among Australian managers suggested that ideas come from a range of sources including: employees, business partners, customers, internal R&D, consultants, associations and trade shows, and internal sales and service units.

In particular, the difference between the top 25% of organisations and the bottom 25% was revealing. For example, the top 25% were almost eight times more likely to tap into ideas from employees than the bottom 25%.

In my research I have found this again and again. Innovative companies have systematic ways of harnessing the ideas of all employees. And these schemes go way beyond the historic employee suggestion schemes.

Here are some suggestions to enhance the ideas of your employees:

  • Leaders should actively encourage employees to contribute their ideas.
  • This should include all employees, so that ideas don’t just come from specific departments.
  • Provide a focus for the ideas. In other words, it is better to say that you are looking for some new product ideas aimed at the kids’ market that can be tested within the next few months rather than asking for any type of idea. This provides some guidelines for employees and dramatically increases the chances of any ideas being approved.
  • Make the evaluation criteria explicit. This is important so that all employees know exactly how their ideas will be evaluated. This means that employees can self-evaluate their ideas so that the ones they decide to submit are of a higher quality.
  • Make the feedback timely. There is nothing worse than someone submitting an idea and not receiving any feedback for months and months. This is insulting and may discourage employees from submitting future ideas.
  • The feedback itself should be part of a learning experience. Sometimes employees contribute unusual ideas. Rather than dismissing these outright the savvy leader should use this as an opportunity to give some relevant and personal feedback so that the experience is a positive one.
  • Recognise and promote the best ideas and also the employees who contribute the most ideas. In this way you can encourage others to participate and contribute their ideas.
  • And lastly, run an employee Blitz program every month, where a number of different problems are tackled in one hour or so. Employees that volunteer for the program will enjoy the creativity, energy and fun of learning how to Blitz with their colleagues. And will be surprised at what they can accomplish in such a short space of time.

Leaders want more innovation so it makes perfect sense to try and encourage greater contribution from all employees. After all, employees have a vested interest in the success of the organisation and know better than anyone what needs to be done.

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