One thing customers realize after launching their SoapBox is that some of the ideas that employees submit will align to projects that are already under way. At first, these ideas may not appear to be all that helpful. It’s not an idea that’s going to open up new opportunities or provide a new solution to a challenge. However, our customers also eventually realize and point out that there are unexpected benefits to these ideas.
An opportunity to communicate
One way that the idea helps is by highlighting an opportunity to communicate what’s happening with the project. The larger and more complex an organization, the harder it is to communicate all the projects underway. It’s even harder for employees to absorb all the information they get blasted everyday. Ideas that relate to an existing project are just another opportunity to communicate work that’s underway. The biggest benefit here is timing. Now, everyone who contributed to the idea is far more receptive to the update. Furthermore, the idea may be a signal to provide further communication around the project more broadly. In this way, the idea program becomes a way to understand where employees need clarification and more communication. Project owners get feedback if and when employees are unaware of what they’re working on or don’t have the latest update.
It can help prioritize existing projects
Another way that feedback on existing projects can help is that it can help reprioritize the project. Knowing that multiple employees have contributed feedback that the idea has merit and would be valued, is a good another data point in assessing relative impact of the project. This can help inject some urgency in getting existing projects completed.
It can improve the impact of the existing project
Organizational behaviour studies consistently show that problem solving and decision making improve with more input. Work already underway can still benefit from additional input from employees it will ultimately impact. When coming up with ideas, employees are most inclined to provide ideas on the things they are closest to and work on everyday. They are the experts at their specific role. Employees that talk to customers everyday have great insights into what’s delighting and frustrating customers. Employees who are working on a production line understand where there are inefficiencies and waste in the process. Ideas related to existing projects can often benefit from the insights of these subject matter experts. The idea and comments that follow can provide important context, or additional insights that can make the project more successful. By incorporating aspects of the feedback, or at least through transparent communication, there’s also an opportunity to increase buy-in and commitment to the project.
Measuring Ideas for Existing Projects
Understanding and doing something with the information that comes from ideas that are aligned to existing projects is definitely a win for many customers. In fact, we often hear from customers that they underestimated the benefit of these ideas when they launched. Everyone gets excited about new ideas, but that’s not the only benefit of an employee idea program.
How should you account for this benefit within the context of providing reports on the overall health of the idea program? One way is to classify ideas as those that are original and kick-off new projects and those that are useful to existing projects. You can call these two categories any way you like – but there is a useful construct with marketing. Marketing leads are sometimes completely new to an organization, but often times a lead that comes in (from an event as an example) is from a customer that’s already working with sales. Marketing accounts for these as “sourced pipeline” and “influenced pipeline”. Similarly, you can account for net new ideas that are accepted and kick off new projects as “sourced” from the idea program and those that align to an existing project and provide incremental value as “influenced”.
One word of caution is to not use “influenced” as a way to sell the value of an idea program. It’s a metric that should be viewed as informational rather than a calculation of return on investment. Rather, use it as a way to better understand how your program is working and as an opportunity to keep improving it and finding ways to optimize it’s value to the organization.