Front-line workers (in other words, your staff that interact directly with your customers or processes) are your source of valuable ideas and innovation. If you are finding that you are having trouble tapping into your employees’ ideas, you are probably experiencing one or more of the three barriers to idea generation. The three barriers are inaccessibility, unclear goals and unresponsive administrators. In this post we are going to do a dive into what these barriers are and ways to overcome them on three of the most common platforms large companies use to manage ideas.
Barrier #1: Inaccessibility
Inaccessibility can happen at many points on the way from your idea to the manager in charge of organizing these ideas. As an illustration, imagine your employees are carrying their idea but to make their idea heard, they have to cross a vast chasm. Just like crossing the chasm, the employee needs to know where their idea is going.
In other words, do your employees know who to contact when they have a great idea? The final destination of their idea should be the manager of ideas. If they don’t know who to contact, they won’t submit their idea and you lose out on a potentially valuable idea simply because they didn’t know who tell their idea to. After all, you wouldn’t cross a chasm if you didn’t know where it lead to.
Secondly, is there a bridge to cross the chasm? Do you have a system to transport this idea from the employee to the manager? The most common systems that we have seen have been e-mails, idea software, physical employee suggestion box, and focus groups. If there is no efficient way for the idea to make it across the chasm, the flow of ideas decreases dramatically.
Lastly, do your employees know how to reach the idea manager? A bridge that no one knows about is the same as having no bridge at all. Make sure that your employees know what tool you are using to get the idea to the idea manager.
Here are a few solutions to help the ideas cross the chasm on a few platforms:
1) Using an email system to manage your ideas? Use these tips to keep it accessible:
- Spread the word and spread awareness.
- Keep communication simple; for example: email@example.com
- Send regular reminders to the community for ideas.
2) Using a suggestion box?
- Make it obvious that it is a suggestion box.
- Keep it visible and accessible.
- Stock it with paper and pens.
3) Using focus groups/standing meetings?
- Meet regularly (e.g., once every month).
- Don’t cancel!
- Send reminders prior to meeting.
4) Using an idea management software program?
- Spread awareness of the software on launch.
- Sustain engagement through regular cues.
Barrier #2: Unclear Goals
In interviews, interviewers often say, “Tell me about yourself.” If you’re like me, you don’t quite know where to start because the scope of the discussion is too large. If they say, “Tell me about your previous work experience,” you know to cover key points on your resume and highlight relevant experience. Similarly, framing your idea generation initiative will help you get more and better focused ideas.
How to Frame the Discussion
- Send a mass email to broadcast the types of ideas you need accompanied by examples.
- If you use a suggestion box, clearly state the types of ideas you need and examples. Put the framing question in a location where employees can easily see before submitting their idea.
- Prepare focus group and brainstorming meeting members ahead of time with an email outlining the purpose of the meeting.
- When using idea management software, remind employees of the ideas you need on the same page that they submit ideas. Follow-up with a thank-you and reminder about the ideas you need.
Barrier #3: Unresponsive Administrators
When administrators of the idea program are unresponsive, employees are less inclined even submit. On all platforms, follow these tips to be responsive and show that you acknowledge, appreciate, and follow-up on their ideas.
- Show appreciation. When employees take the time out of their day to submit an idea, they must believe the idea is important. In return, take a moment to thank them — say thank you for every idea. Yes, every idea. Responding shows that innovation is a two-way street and you’ve acknowledged receipt of the idea.
- Communicate progress. Upon deciding whether to pursue idea, communicate back to the original submitter. Inform them of the decision and rational, and thank them for their time.
- Update regularly. Regularly update the community on the progress of ideas with newsletters so that they can stay current on ideas in progress.
There are barriers to idea generation but there is a solution on every platform to overcome each of these barriers. By following through with these solutions, you can get the ideas from your employees that you need quickly, to promote change and push innovation beyond expectations.