Getting The Best Employee Ideas

For employees to become more involved and for them to generate smarter and more creative ideas, they should see their ideas being used.

Managers, on the other hand need to give their employees more authority – which leads to more and better ideas, completing what the Harvard Management Updates calls a virtuous cycle. Below are their suggestions to generate the best employee ideas.

What is wrong with the typical approach to idea generation?

According to the Harvard Management Update, companies follow the "managers think; employees do" pattern. However, "frontline workers" know more about the specifics of product, services and processes than managers do. And there in lies the problem. The Harvard Management Update says they are better positioned to spot problems and opportunities.

Characteristics of an effective idea system

The Harvard Management Update says that ideas are, or should be, actively encouraged from all quarters. "Submitting ideas is simple, and the evaluation of suggestions is quick and effective. Pushing decision making down to the front lines for as many ideas as possible leads to better decisions, faster implementation, and lower processing costs; it also frees up managers’ time."

Why the emphasis on small ideas?

Business leaders are always on the look out for the next best thing – the next breakthrough idea that will put them at the forefront of their field. This is why the systems and policies that they put in place focus on big ideas, which is very limiting. The Harvard Management Update says "you can’t achieve success without getting the little things right."

The Harvard Management Update adds that small ideas generally remain propriety, unlike big ideas. Big ideas are very perceptible and as thus, can be very easily imitated or countered. Small ideas on the other hand can "add up to (create) a huge competitive advantage" because competitors have no "natural" way of knowing about them.

How should companies guide idea generation?

According to the The Harvard Management Update, company strategy should determine where to focus its search for ideas. "Identifying the primary drivers of performance and then soliciting ideas related to those drivers-that’s the ultimate alignment tool."

Reward versus recognition

The Harvard Management Update says that rewards are not really necessary to guarantee a huge flow of ideas. To use their example, the Japanese company Idemitsu receives over a hundred ideas per employee every year without offering any additional bonuses. The Harvard Management Update also notes that many ostensibly commonsense bonuses or reward plans turn out to be counterproductive because they create huge non-value-adding work, and they also undermine trust and team work.

Recognition is usually enough. The Harvard Management Update says that most employees are happy to see their ideas being used and are proud to be able to contribute to the company’s success. The best way to recognize their input is to implement their ideas quickly and credit to the employees involved. The Harvard Management Update suggests that "If you do want to offer financial rewards, base them on simple aggregate measures and distribute them to all employees, equitably and across the board."  

Source: The Harvard Management Update


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