Employees are filled with ideas that can help boost corporate profits and they are eager to offer them to management, but don’t. They often are confused by culture or corporate protocol or are simply too introverted or embarrassed to do so.
All that leaders need do is to ask.
In this Nugget I present one method that worked successfully for me. A special contest within our company the likes of which had very positive outcomes for both the company and the employees themselves. If this positive experience of our profit-boosting team is any indication, this type of effort is generally worth it. I will lay out the key steps for this contest/program:
- Convince fellow corporate executives to sponsor this initiative. Rationale: step #4 below.
- Hand-pick enthusiastic colleagues to serve as program/contest leadership. The team leadership MUST BE chosen from your corporate leadership team, the higher the management, the better.
- Develop a contest with rules and rewards, and make it crystal clear how ideas will be solicited, ranked and rewarded. Include a call for barriers. See End Note 1
- Hit the road. YOU and the members of your program leadership team fan out across the country to host geographical/regional meetings to explain the purpose and mechanics of the contest and to begin the submission process. The program chairperson and at least one of the program’s leadership team ought to be at each.
- You will need a vehicle to provide complete transparency to all employees. Employees have to be able to monitor your progress. So, incorporate both a push program and an intranet site.
- Build an input system to enable employees to submit ideas for the few weeks following your regional meetings. As they see ideas, one idea will generate additional ideas. The program cascades for a short time. It seems to follow a normal distribution curve in terms of number of ideas over time.
- Capture and rank all ideas. Retain the original statements as received and post them so employees can recognize their submissions even if submitted anonymously. Later, to “actionize” you’ll need to do K-J to select the best ideas.
- BARRIERS must be worked on concurrently with the positive ideas.
- Celebrate and make a big deal of the rewards for the best profit-impacting ideas.
- Begin assigning ideas and barriers to appropriate managers and staff for actions. Invite them to present their action plans to your program leadership team. Ensure everyone gets the message that the implementation phase is deadly serious stuff. One staff manager quipped, “This feels like I am standing before the Spanish Inquisition!” I replied, “You are.” Appropriately, no one dared to laugh. Further, nobody hides behind bureaucracy…notes, and names responsible for action plans, from each of these meetings ought to be sent to the entire employee base and posted on the intranet.
- It’s not over. Send the team leadership back out to the regions to do post-mortems.
This program is as much about letting employees be heard and about demonstrating positive action, as it is about soliciting ideas for profitability.
- Executives often shy from soliciting barriers, (often called complaints), from the entire employee base for fear of opening a Pandora’s box of frustrations and anger. While there is always a risk of “losing control”, so to say, I’ve never shied from confronting issues or any number of issues. What our team discovered, is the eagerness of employees to be helpful rather than harmful. Of the nearly one thousand ideas received “complaints” accounted for approx. 50 of all the inputs received.