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3 Steps to Avoid an Employee Engagement Misstep

Posted on June 30, 2015

So you're sold on innovation and want to unleash the creative forces in your organization. You can see how doing so will create new products, raise revenue, improve productivity, save company money, and lower the employee turnover rate and now you are ready to take the plunge.

But wait, hold on. Are you REALLY ready?

One thing that came as a pleasant surprise to a few of our clients upon launching their digital employee suggestion system is being overwhelmed by helpful suggestions. A current client of ours was caught completely off guard by the deluge and asked for a way to temporarily turn the idea spigot off.

As it turns out, the employee suggestion box has been broken for so long that in most organizations there's an enormous backlog of pent-up ideas. Employees are now brimming with insight on how to improve conditions and only lack the right outlet. But fixing the problem by creating an effective communication channel can result in signal overload. Too much of a good thing can be as much a problem as too little.

Three Steps to Take

Given these examples, it should be clear that one cannot simply purchase an employee suggestion system, foist it upon employees, and expect it to work like magic. There are a few rules to follow before launch to make it successful:

1. Establish an Innovation Team

Before turning on the suggestion system, it's important to set up an oversight team to handle the incoming stream. Will these people have the bandwidth to handle all the suggestions? Moreover, will they have the authority, autonomy, and power within the organization to make at least some of the suggestions into reality?

This is an important first step and a large part of the reason that so many employee suggestion programs are not effective. If employees fail to see management implementing (or, at the very least, responding) to their suggestions, trust in the system can break down and the system can fail in a classic negative response loop fashion.

It is important to get ahead of that possibility and create a system that will support a positive response loop. Trust builds if employees see their suggestions being handled and implemented, and they will be more inclined to submit more.

2. Setting some ground rules

Laying down the law before launch is also a good idea. It should be made clear to everyone involved an employee suggestion system is not the same thing as a complaint box.

Good employee suggestion programs focus on finding solutions to problems and should not devolve into the pointless airing of grievances. Everyone involved should seek the answer to the question “What can we do to address this?” and keep it positive. A great suggestion tool will implement prompts that require employees to do some of the pre-work prior to submitting their ideas. This puts the ownership of the idea back on them, which will diminish the desire to complain and amplify a successful outcome.

3. Keeping an open mind

There’s a saying, “Rome was not built in a day,” and a high performing employee suggestion program is no different. It’s important to keep an open mind during the launch and maintain a long term vision for success. Collecting employee suggestions is one facet of driving innovation and improving operations; acting upon these suggestions takes time.

That’s why we encourage clients to go for the small wins first and refrain from putting everything into the home run, game-changing suggestion. We’ve seen countless times that saving a few dollars here and there add up much more quickly than the big idea that may or may not ever happen. Making the small wins happen encourages the submission of more of them and is how Toyota became the #1 auto maker in the world.

The key is - keep the faith. Big ROI might take a while, some teams may be overly eager with suggestions while others lag. Implementation sometimes is a frustrating process involving cutting through red tape - but employee suggestion programs work wonders over time. The concepts behind employee suggestions have made Toyota, GE, IBM, Apple, and 3M global powerhouses. If it worked for them, it will probably work for your company. Good luck and happy innovating!

And if you are ready to get your team on the fast-track to impactful suggestions, give us a call at Vocoli at 888.919.5300.


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