A company's employees as the best idea generators


World-class companies seek continuous improvement of their performance in various fields. An improvement usually requires change, and the change comes after a proposal – which itself is the result of a new idea. In many companies the proposals (ideas) for improvement come only from the higher company levels: the management’s job is to think, and the staff’s job - to execute.

The obvious error in this traditional approach is that first-line employees and their supervisors often know the product, services and processes better than the management. From their position, they can more easily seen both problems and opportunities for improvement.

Another common problem comes from the very definition of "improvement ideas". Most companies looking for big innovations - something that will put them ahead of the competition in one fell swoop. In reflection of this, their systems and procedures for idea generation are aimed at finding large-scale improvements. Few managers realize how limiting this is. In many important aspects of a business - customer service, quality, cost management - excellent performance is impossible if you don’t pay attention to the little things as well. An improvement idea can be something as minor as " Let’s move the trash can closer, so that we don’t have to go to it every time we need to throw something" or " Let’s remove all unnecessary things from our work area." The great advantage of small improvements is that they often remain "internal" - big changes in a company are clearly visible to its competitors, while small ones are much more difficult to copy and, as they accumulate, can become a significant competitive advantage .

It becomes clear that the best solution is to involve all company employees in the idea generation process and to consider all ideas, regardless of their size and complexity. But how can you get good ideas from employees and how can you manage the generation, evaluation and implementation of ideas?

The most important element of idea generation and management systems is the motivation of participants. Cash prizes are often an ineffective motivator - especially when it comes to activities that require creativity. Using money as an incentive, you turn the process of generating ideas into work: "I pay you to think of something."

Most employees have many ideas and will be happy to see them realized. They will be proud of the fact that their proposal has contributed to the company's success. So, the best incentive for generating ideas is to evaluate and apply them as quickly as possible.

Whether an idea is good or bad, it is very important to give its initiator quick and constructive feedback. Some employees will be disappointed if their ideas aren’t implemented, but if they see that they were really considered and evaluated objectively, they will feel encouraged to come back to you with new suggestions. If employees see that their ideas are not payed any attention and there’s no results, they will likely stop sharing them. Feedback on every idea must be given within 24 hours of receiving it.

The idea evaluation itself shouldn’t be a complex and slow process, but a simple (and as accurate as possible) evaluation, carried out by the entire team or the manager. Evaluate ideas according to how much would their implementation cost and what benefits will it bring.

Approved ideas should be implemented as quickly as possible. Here is the time to appoint responsible employees and set deadlines. If necessary, an Action Plan can be created for the implementation of more complex ideas. Management support is the key to the rapid realization of improvement ideas. The lack of such support makes people think: "Why should we give ideas? They are not implemented anyway." With such an attitude among employees you will not only lose momentum - their faith in the idea management system will also dwindle.

After an improvement idea is implemented, the actual benefit from it should be measured. Try, if possible, to measure a quantitative effect – time and money saved, resources that were re-used, etc. Sometimes quantifying the effect is impossible. In such cases, make a list of qualitative benefits, brought on by the implementation of the idea - increased safety, motivation, etc.

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