An employee idea system works with other improvement initiatives to drive forward organizational performance. However, executives in many of the companies that have formal employee suggestion programs don't see the programs as critical contributors to their bottom line. Most managers have experience with only the suggestion box type of system, which are ineffective – and the mere suggestion of a suggestion program carries with it that stigma which must be overcome. The stigma is that suggestion programs do not have any impact and are fact often poked fun at.
The reason many suggestion programs are ineffective are that the actions many managers take are counterintuitive to what they should be doing to achieving an effective idea management system. There is a clear difference between a suggestion program which is like a black hole where ideas go to die and an employee idea management system which actively manages the ideas in your company.
When leaders feel they can trust their employees to make decisions about their own ideas, the question then becomes how to design a system that operationalizes this trust. Most leaders assume that they can achieve this themselves by simply layering an evaluation process on top of existing organizational layers and practices. Let’s explore why this is a problem by exploring some of the pitfalls of a typical suggestion program.
Pitfall Number 1: How a typical suggestion program collects ideas:
Ideas that are collected are often limited by the ideas that employees come up based on their own limited perspective based on their role within the company. There is little incentive to push the scope beyond that or to challenge the status quo. The process is limited to solutions and does not accept problems. In addition, a suggestion program does not focus employees in on your company’s strategic goals. What does “we want you to give us your ideas” even mean? I’m confused and so are your employees.
Pitfall Number 2: How a typical suggestion program evaluates ideas:
A typical suggestion program is slow and bureaucratic because of how ideas are evaluated. A manager is often assigned to monitor, evaluate and track ideas in addition to their regular work. Ideas then get low priority and a slow response time. In short, implementation becomes a lot of extra work on very few people in the company. Secondly, oftentimes ideas are not vetted by colleagues who understand the underlying problems and consider alternate solutions. They may have little understanding of context of the idea and feel little urgency about the underlying problem, especially if it doesn’t directly affect them or their department. Lastly, the pressure and risk of approving an idea means rejecting the idea is safer than accepting it. This creates a strong bias towards rejecting ideas. If the evaluator approves the idea, they accept some responsibility if it fails. By rejecting it and doing nothing – it will not make anything worse.
Pitfall Number 3: How a typical suggestion program holds people accountable:
A typical suggestion program does not integrate into the DNA of your company and how your employees work on a daily basis, so front-line employees are not empowered to take initiative. There is no feedback loop built in so there is little accountability for management follow-through.
The reality of the situation is that without a simple and focused idea system to actively manage your ideas, they can become a distraction. When ideas are handled in an ad hoc manner, it is confusing to your employees, your vendors and your customers.
Idea Share Tip of the Month!
Management should not become a judge of ideas. It is too easy for them to brush them under the carpet, be too busy to evaluate them, play favoritism or take credit for ideas brought to them.
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