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How to Run an Email Idea Program

While we don’t normally recommend it (see Best Strategies for InnovationWhy the Suggestion Box Fails Every Time, or our guide on the Employee Suggestion Box), with the correct resources, running an idea program from your inbox can be possible.

Throughout our blog we’ve sprinkled tips here and there about how to best to run an email idea program and we’ve decided to compile them all here.

1. Getting Rid of Barriers to Idea Generation in an Email Idea Program

Inaccessibility can happen at many points on the way from your initial idea to the manager in charge of organizing these ideas. Here are some key ways to ensure that you keep your idea program accessible:

  • Spread the word. Use posters to keep the program top of mind for employees. In mass emails, make sure you always mention the program and that you’re actively looking for ideas.
  • Keep communication simple, through using a simple email address for example: idea@organizationname.com
  • Send regular reminders to the community for ideas.
  • Frame the scope of the conversation.

2. Streamlining Your Processes for Your Inbox Idea Program

Managing an idea program from your inbox is going to be extremely challenging due to the sheer amount of manual work required. However, you can optimize your processes to ensure engagement:

  1. First and foremost, have a great team who can help you manage the ideas.
  2. Transfer your ideas offline. You can download this template which includes all the essential elements you need to track and measure the process in your idea program.
  3. Create a workflow.

Here is one example of a workflow for an email idea program
When an idea is assigned to the leader that is responsible for executing the idea:

  • Mark the email as read
  • Forward the email to the leader responsible for executing the idea
  • Reply to the employee who submitted the idea
  • Log it into your spreadsheet.

We recommend using an app that allows real-time editing like Google Spreadsheets so that your entire team can track what is happening with ideas and prevent overlapping of efforts.

Use unread vs. read statuses of emails to your advantage. Read emails have been assigned and unread emails are not yet assigned. On a bi-weekly basis, meet with your team to review the ideas and update their statuses on the spreadsheet.

(P.S we have this spreadsheet that can help you keep track of your emails with a built-in workflow, and this free tool can help you track and measure the key metrics for your idea program)

3. Your Communications Plan

Without software, it’s exceptionally difficult to maintain engagement. In comparison to running an engaged idea program using an ideation platform, running one from your email will require an increase in the frequency of communications with the community.

  • Ensure that every idea that has been read and you’ve also replied to the ideator, letting them know that you’ve acknowledged the idea and that you’re looking into it. You should do this for every idea (yes it’s a lot but necessary to avoid the suggestion box black hole effect).
  • About two weeks later, you should update the ideator on the status of the idea. If it has been accepted, declined, or still awaiting further evaluation. If the idea has been accepted, you should give them a run-down of the expected steps and an estimated time of completion. If the idea has been declined, explain why it is currently unfeasible or if a solution already exists.
  • Every week send out a newsletter to the community. The newsletter helps to keep the idea program top of mind and also provides you with an opportunity to celebrate successful idea. Any progress made on any ideas should be mentioned in the newsletter along with the results of completed ideas. Finish the email with a call to action to continue to submit ideas.
  • Upon the completion of an idea, send a personalized email back to the original ideator thanking them for their idea and for being an agent of change in the organization (which they are!)

As you can see, it can be a lot of work to carry out an idea program through email; however, if you follow these steps, you will give yourself the best chance of success.

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