Sideways 6 - The Anatomy of the Perfect Employee Ideas Campaign

6 reasons employee idea programs don't work

At Sideways 6 we know a thing or two about employee ideas programs. From the good to the bad, we've seen it all, and we're dishing up the rookiest of errors!


Will Read, Sideways 6 Founder and CEO, reveals the reasons in this 20-minute webinar. Alternatively, if our wordsmithery has you hooked, please read on!

Picture the scene. You're part of an organization brimming with enthusiastic, talented and engaged employees, a buzzing hive of innovative, potentially transformative ideas just waiting to be unleashed. But for some reason, you just can’t capture this possibly game-changing information.

Did you know?

52% of employees feel that good ideas fail to be implemented within their company.
Source: The State of Employee Ideas.

The fact is that four in five employees have ideas to improve their business, and most companies understand the value of listening to them – so why do so many idea programs fail to make an impact?

We look at the six most common mistakes businesses make when it comes to employee idea programs.

1. Not starting with ‘why?’

We didn't coin the term 'start with why', but we wish we had!

The first step towards executing a successful employee ideas program is to know why you're carrying out the program in the first place. Is the reason powerful enough to ensure that it will be seen through to its conclusion?

Failure to establish this will lead to your program falling flatter than a pancake on Shrove Tuesday, so remember – no ‘why’ equals no need!


The role of a leader is not to come up with all the ideas, but to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.

-----  Simon Sinek  -----

What, then, are the wrong reasons for conducting an ideas program?

Let's say a consultant has told an organization that, because a competitor is conducting an ideas program, they should also be doing it.

This may be good enough to get the ball rolling, but it's unlikely to sustain a program through planning, launching, evaluating and ultimately actioning – and that really defeats the point, as you're looking for something that employees can engage with throughout the process.

Some of the most successful employee idea programs we've seen have been targeted towards specific challenges facing an organisation. These have included saving costs, bringing new products to market, or improving customer service – all areas where innovative ideas from your employees could be provide great benefit.

2. Not defining the challenge

You've started with 'why'. What next?

A crucial next step is to define what the challenge looks like. Remember, a good idea is not a fixed concept – what works for Company A may not work for Company B. It must fit your brief, and failing to define the challenge can jeopardise the process from the start.

As your program is all about engagement, it’s probably wise to involve your employees in the definition process, too. Think about the itches that employees want scratching – what are they talking about around the water cooler or in the pub after work? What are the challenges that are already being discussed, and how can you turn those into employee ideas?

This said, if you're early on in your employee ideas program, you may find that a lack of guidance can be an issue, particularly in an environment where there isn’t an existing culture of idea sharing.


Use constraints! It can be useful to request ideas to solve a specific challenge, or to limit responses with a particular time-frame or budget.

3. No scope to effect change

What's your circle of influence? Can you realistically encourage engagement and action any ideas?

A finance director working on a finance-based program makes complete sense, while a finance director asking people to come up with a new marketing program without liaising with the marketing department? That’s setting itself up for failure. You need to have the right people on board, even if that means recruiting different parts of the organization.

Did you know?

Employee idea programs with leadership endorsement garner 30% more engagement on average.

4. A lack of diversity 

A diverse group of people means a diverse problem solving potential. Dipping into a varied pool of employees from across the business, where people are living a range of experiences in terms of client interactions, processes and constraints, means a greater scope for problem-solving solutions. 


I don't feel the company values ideas and opinions from colleagues who are not management level.

-----  The 2018 State of Employee Ideas  -----

Remember, though, it’s not just about the audience – you also need diversity amongst those who are going to review, prioritize and action the ideas generated by the program.


Get support from across your company. Share the responsibility to engage different areas of the company and have managers encourage their teams to participate.

5. Not giving feedback

Typically, employees will be aware that the organization has run a suggestion scheme, but hear nothing back about their contribution. This is a sure-fire way to ensure the same people don't contribute next time.


There's been a number of times that I’ve gone to my manager with ideas to improve our sales process, but I feel it has gone into a black hole.

-----  The 2018 State of Employee Ideas  -----

Feedback should be delivered regularly to ensure that your audience is updated as you move through the process, and it should remain consistent with the original challenges that were outlined. Back to that pesky but oh-so-crucial ‘why?’, again!


Use discretion. Ensure the feedback you give is as transparent as possible, within reason. Remember, no-one wants to be told that their ideas are, at best, unfeasible, and at worst ridiculous!

6. Failing to engage everyone

The more employees you involve, the greater number of ideas generated, and the higher the chance of success. It's simple math. This has been the case with idea programs throughout history, right back from early suggestion boxes. 

The last couple of decades have seen a trend of running employee ideas programs in siloed spaces. Despite the best of intentions (we know where that road leads...), it is actually fairly difficult to draw employees into these isolated platforms.


The only ‘official way’ to propose ideas are regular company meetings, where everyone is afraid to speak.

-----  The 2018 State of Employee Ideas  -----

This is easily avoided by making things as simple as possible for people to collaborate on ideas. Allow employees to submit ideas on whatever channels are easiest for them – be that the company’s social network, email, intranet or even via SMS. Convenience is key for engagement.


Go social! Look at where you already have a captive audience of employees and run your idea programs there – places like Slack, Workplace by Facebook and Microsoft Yammer can be a great place to start.

Remember: Great ideas can come from anywhere, and we hope these tips help you to find yours! 

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