“You are surrounded by simple, obvious solutions that can dramatically increase your income, power, influence and success. The problem is, you just don't see them” (Jay Abraham, marketing consultant).
Let’s talk about a simple strategy that will help you harvest an abundant crop of new ideas that are sure to motivate employees, give customers a better buying experience, and increase financial results.
An Untapped Asset
Though perhaps unnoticed, the people around you possess a wealth of experience, talent, insight, and creative ideas that are just waiting for the right opportunity to be shared.
Sadly, many useful and innovative thoughts that could improve your company are never expressed. Why? You don’t have a business system to tap into the collective intelligence of workers who are intimately involved with your daily operations; this includes the "average" folks that rarely speak up.
Everyone in your organization is potentially a problem-solver and an innovator. If you have an idea-rich culture of continuous learning and improvement, your employees are always thinking: "How can I do this easier, faster, better or less expensively.”
Researcher Alan Robinson says "ideas are 'free' and employees will gladly make improvements as part of their job if the environment you create is right.”
So what kind of system can you create to harness the knowledge, imagination, and renewable energy of your employees?
The Outdated Suggestion Box
Some companies have tried a “suggestion box.” Employees write ideas or recommendations on a form and put them in a labeled drop-box. Managers read the suggestions (sometimes) and implement the ones they think will work. However, suggestion boxes typically aren’t very effective. They allow anonymity leading to frivolous suggestions or mean-spirited remarks. They focus on problems but not necessarily solutions, and solutions offered are not always feasible. Employees often propose more work for other people who are already busy, and thus no action is taken. Finally, this old-style system usually doesn’t reward successful implementation and sustained results stemming from the suggestion.
There is a better way! (Photo: Bright Ideas Campaign)
Ideas for Improvement
Here are some ideas to implement a business system that will solicit real improvement ideas, generate enthusiasm from employees, and save or earn your company thousands of dollars over the coming year.
- To begin, let’s get rid of the suggestion box and replace it with a filing system by worker name. After all, we expect every person to submit many suggestions—often small ones—over the course of a year. It’s also a good idea to review the employee’s file of suggested improvements during performance evaluations or other interviews.
- Next, give the system a new name—something that emphasizes solutions instead of merely suggestions. You could call it the “business improvement program” or the “employee ideas-for-improvement program.” If those sound a little lame, have a brainstorming session or contest to name the system. Let me know what you come up with.
- The person with a new idea for a solution or improvement completes a brief form (get a sample form in The Zone) and hand-delivers it to their supervisor or someone who could provide the time and resources needed. Good ideas might help with customer satisfaction, cost savings, productivity, process improvement, revenue-generation, and so forth. A brief plan to implement the proposal is also included. The merits of the idea are discussed, and an action plan generated.
- Ideally, the submitter of the new solution should be responsible for its implementation. Ownership increases the likelihood of success. Active participation by the submitter removes one of the major complaints with the old suggestion box: “I gave the company a good idea, but they didn’t do anything with it.” Lack of action kills the motivation of any improvement program.
- Always thank employees for their time, effort and feedback. Positive reinforcement will keep the good ideas flowing. Create a reward system for people whose ideas are successfully implemented. Frequent acknowledgment of the many small improvements is more effective than occasional recognition of a few big ones. Consider giving a vacation day, tickets to a sporting event, or a gift card. When others see that good ideas are rewarded and appreciated, they will join in. If appropriate, give financial compensation, partial when the solution is first implemented and the rest over time with proven results. The reward system helps the submitter maintain ownership and a vested interest in assuring that the new solution is understood, accepted, and practiced by everyone.
- If you want to create a little healthy competition, do something visible like posting a chart that shows the number of ideas submitted by each person, team, or department. Be creative. Recognize winning ideas in your weekly Business Improvement Workshop. Celebrate achievements with perhaps a pizza party.
- Maintain a simple log of new ideas presented, the person’s name, and date implemented. This helps the supervisor know what is going on at a glance and allows for a frequent review of progress. Again, talk it up at your Business Improvement Workshop.
Never Stop Improving
Get connected with your knowledgeable, imaginative, inspired, resourceful, eager-to-contribute employees who are quietly working in their cubical or on a production line. Capitalize on this great hidden treasure you are already paying for.
Every little improvement—hundreds a year— will make your business better and better, until one day, you have a smooth-running, people-pleasing, money-making system!
P.S. - Get the "Business Improvement Suggestion Form" in The Zone.