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Why Your Company Should Have a Formal Employee Innovation Program

Posted on December 02, 2015

How many times have you brought up a great idea in a meeting only to see the conversation move in a different direction, based on other peoples’ initiatives or agendas? How often have you brought up a terrific suggestion to your manager only to see it get buried and forgotten amidst their other competing priorities? This is an all-too-common and very frustrating situation that most people experience at some point in their career.

In another scenario, have you been that manager? Have you realized that one of your employee’s great ideas has languished because you lacked the bandwidth to be its champion? It's not a great feeling when you realize you were a roadblock to organizational improvement. Even worse, when your employee comes to ask you about it later, or it comes up during their performance evaluation and you can’t give them credit or reward them for the idea because you lost track of it in the daily grind. Not only have you let down your colleague, you’ve deprived your organization of the benefits a potentially significant idea.

Unfortunately, these scenarios are only too common in both corporations and government today. Great ideas get stymied in silos or left behind in meetings because 1) they get lost in the noise, 2) they compete with someone else’s agenda or 3) they simply go undocumented and are forgotten.

Of course, all of this “crashing and burning” that takes place with employee suggestions and innovations takes a tremendous toll on an organization in several ways:

  • Decreased effectiveness—if problems seen by your employees are not addressed and rectified, your organization will be less effective and, therefore, less competitive in the marketplace.
  • Innovation drain—if employees don’t see any clear path to have their ideas brought forward for consideration and implementation, they will begin to figure, “what’s the point?” They will simply begin to keep their ideas to themselves.

  • Decreased faith in the management team—if employees don’t feel they have a say in their work, if they feel the organization is not transparent and doesn’t value their contributions, they will lose faith in management and, by association, the mission and goals that management articulates.

  • Decreased engagement—Employees who do not feel that their voice has value, and that they are a valued part of the organization, disengage. This has been widely documented through Gallup data; employers today are struggling to keep employees engaged. Whether they leave to work somewhere that will value their innovation, or continue to show up and go through the motions, guess what?—your organization loses through:

    •  Decreased quality of work product—employees are not bringing their “A game” to work with them.

    • Increased turnover of talent—this turnover costs organizations money as they have to constantly transition people to new projects, re-train and re-hire staff.

    • Counterproductive employees—possibly worse than losing employees to disengagement are the employees who are actively disengaged but decide to stay on. In the best case scenario, these employees do lackluster work, but in the worst case, they actually work against your more productive employees by being a roadblock, holding up important innovations or projects.

 

Some key tips if you decide to proceed….

By implementing a formal employee suggestion/innovation program, your organization has the opportunity to capitalize on your employee brain trust, engage your employees in their work and deliver stellar performance by soliciting feedback, implementing better solutions and rewarding those who contribute. However, not all employee suggestion programs are created equal, and some, if not properly supported, configured and implemented, can do more harm than good.

If you are going to launch a program to solicit employee feedback, make sure you have the following key elements in place:

  • Senior management support—it is critical that all employees “buy in” to this initiative and that the program is seen by all levels of your organization as a supported initiative that represents an integral part of corporate strategy going forward.

  • Communication resources—the internal comms team needs to support your program with a sustained plan to help market the program, keep it relevant, celebrate success and promote it creatively via recognition, rewards and gamified opportunities for employees to participate in the feedback/innovation program.

  • Commitment to respond—I recently spoke to an organization that was very excited about soliciting ideas and feedback from its staff. When I began asking them about their strategy for evaluating, responding to and implementing ideas, they admitted they weren’t ready for those elements, they just wanted to get conversations started. Because the death knell of many employee feedback programs is that they lack key response and implementation mechanisms, I advised them that they would be better served by not launching until their organization was committed to being responsive to the feedback they were soliciting and having a transparent way for employees to track the status of their suggestions.

  • The right software partner—invest in a software engine that has been built specifically for innovation and feedback. Don’t try to re-deploy internal IT resources and programs to meet this need. Your internal resources may view the project as a distraction from their other key deliverables and will often try to adapt software technologies that were not specifically built to engage employees in collaboration and innovation. This can cause internal projects to suffer while also delivering potentially sub-optimal software to drive innovation.

For an initiative this important, you want work with a partner who is specifically focused on employee innovation and feedback.

For more tips on how to launch (or re-launch) a successful employee innovation and feedback program, please visit our blog where we have a library of thought leadership available. We are always happy to discuss your innovation and feedback initiatives and provide our guidance and insights on strategy and software.

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