Employees are often the best sources of ideas because they are closest to the daily details of the organization.
But too often, employees are sitting on great cost-saving, business-generating ideas because they’ve never been specifically asked.
Don’t depend only on an open-door policy and good relationships with employees to encourage them to deliver suggestions. Formal systems for soliciting ideas work best.
Here are five strategies to help encourage input from employees.
1. Gather small groups of employees (different ones each time) in monthly targeted brainstorm lunches on topics such as new products and workflow efficiency.
2. Use e-mail or the web as a modern “suggestion box” to make it simpler (and anonymous) for employees to submit ideas online. Don’t reject ideas via e-mail without explaining the decision in person or by phone.
3. Put a quota on ideas. Sometimes, employees will show their cards only when cornered. So require employees to prepare at least one idea for each brainstorm session—even if it’s submitted anonymously.
When hosting brainstorming sessions, gather where employees can relax in lower-pressure surroundings.
4. Reward employees for their contributions. Award prizes for ideas that are implemented. Offer rewards that employees value, such as cash, a gift certificate or extra time off from work. Publicize ideas that are adopted.
Push employees to think about what’s best for the company beyond the department and their own jobs.
Or host a brainstorm contest that emphasizes a specific theme. Example: “How can we reduce the amount of time each employee spends on customer service calls?” Hold competitions sparingly because employee enthusiasm for contests wanes if they occur too often.
5. Provide timely and thoughtful feedback for each suggestion. Ask employees to clarify ideas that require further explanation. Briefly explain the reason for rejecting proposals. Thank all employees for their input.
Then, don’t delay in implementing the best ideas. Failure to follow through will discourage additional proposals, alienate employees and lower morale.