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8 examples of intrapreneurship and employee ideas in action
A collection of inspirational true stories which prove that great things happen when companies listen to their employees.
Nobody knows your business better than your employees. Any employee could be holding onto a crown jewel of an idea which, if voiced, has the potential to make a huge, positive impact.
Did you know?
Companies who listen to employees are 21% more profitable than the competition. (Source: Gallup)
At Sideways 6, we know that the benefits of listening to employees are twofold: better companies, happier people. We've collated these stories as proof of just that!
1. Swan Vesta – The matchbox millionaire
Ideas can come from anywhere, and some of the best ones are the simplest.
Take this story from enduring brand, Swan. In the early 1900s, a factory worker at Swan Vesta, the match company, went to senior management and told them he had an idea that could save the business millions of pounds in production costs.
He was ignored, with management unbelieving that a lowly factory worker could have ideas of such value. After months of pushing and persuasion, however, the worker managed to get just a few minutes in front of the board, a skeptical audience ready to laugh at his 'million dollar' idea.
The idea? To put the sandpaper strike on only one side of the matchbox rather than both. Revolutionary.
As any Swan matchbox will now prove, the idea worked, and the business saved millions. Like we said, sometimes the best ideas are strikingly simple!
2. Ford – On-the-go H20
Since releasing its breakthrough Model T way back in 1908, Ford motor company has come a long way.
While much of its initial success was in thanks to pioneering mass production techniques, it's banking much of its future on scaling innovation. And, importantly, it's looking to employees for these ideas.
Ford employees share over 3,500 innovations every year, the majority of which aren't from the R&D department. One such idea came from Doug Martin, whose inspiration came as he noticed a few drops of condensation dripping from his car.
Doug began working on a prototype that turned condensation from the car's air conditioning into drinkable water.
Incredibly, Martin found a single vehicle can produce more than 64 ounces of water an hour – that's about four bottle's worth. The water is filtered and channeled to a tap which sits by the gearbox.
We believe in driving innovation from all parts of our business.
----- Raj Nair, CTO at Ford Motors -----
Ford believes the innovation has the potential to help water scarcity in developing nations and encourage consumers to buy less plastic bottles. Water wonderful idea!
3. McDonald's – The happiest meal
Name a more iconic meal in a box than the Happy Meal. We'll wait...
Did you know, however, that this icon actually started as a simple gimmick? In 1977, the St Louis regional manager, Dick Brams, wanted to trial a new meal that was just for kids. He pitched his box-based idea to management, and they were lovin' it!
Two years later, McDonald's rolled out its first Happy Meal. It was circus-themed and very similar to the one we see today.
In the time you've been reading this story, approximately 2,937 have been sold. 3 million Happy Meals are sold every day.
One enduring myth about Happy Meals is that they are just for kids. We can assure you, that's definitely not the case...
4. Amazon – One convenient click
If you're one of the more than 250 million people that visits Amazon's website every day, then you'll have noticed the enticing 'buy with 1-click' button.
Amazon programmer Peri Hartman wanted to find a way to 'make the ordering system completely frictionless', and so he built the software to enable 1-click purchases. It worked, and was patented by Amazon in 1997.
When we write the history of e-commerce, the 1-Click patent allowed Amazon to create a very strong position in the market.
----- R Polk Wagner -----
Not only did this innovation provide Amazon with a huge competitor advantage, it also provided a new revenue stream as it licensed the technology to other companies (including Apple!).
How many times have you impulsively bought a new album on iTunes or a new book for your Kindle without even a second thought? Instant purchase drives orders.
By the time the patent expired in 2017, Amazon's turnover was $177bn. Not a bad head start...
5. Southwest Airlines – Mile high humor
If you've heard one flight safety announcement, you've heard them all. That is, unless you fly Southwest Airlines.
Tired of passengers ignoring her all-too-familiar safety announcement monologue, flight attendant Martha 'Marty' Cobbs decided to ad-lib a few lines of her own.
Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then place it on your child. If you're traveling with more than one child, start with the one with the greatest earning potential.
----- Marty Cobbs -----
The cabin started taking notice and, as Mary continued, was soon in hysterics.
'In the event you haven't been in an automobile since 1960, our flight attendants will now show you how to fasten a seatbelt.'
Marty rapidly achieved YouTube fame with passengers sharing recordings of her announcements. It wasn't long before management noticed, too, and they loved it so much they encouraged staff to embrace the same humor across their fleet.
Our attendants are encouraged to make safety briefings engaging through the use of humor, song, or other individual twists.
----- Elise May, Southwest Airlines -----
It's estimated that Southwest Airlines' safety announcements are worth $140m a year in increased customer loyalty. That's no joke.
6. Starbucks – A tall order
Sometimes, an idea becomes so embedded in our culture, we simply take it for granted.
Founded in Seattle back in 1971, Starbucks went on a mission to become its customers' 'third place' to go – a relaxing and comfortable environment in between work and home. This mission was founded on selling not just coffee, but a unique customer experience.
In 2011, when one smart barista decided to add to that experience by writing the names of customers on cups, it quickly got back to head office.
Months later, this 'first-name basis' approach became standard at every single Starbucks store. The company even produced a televised ad to promote its new personal approach.
From now on we won't refer to you as a tall latte or a mocha, but as your folks intended – by your name. It's only a little thing. We're Starbucks. Nice to meet you.
----- Starbucks -----
Today, this 'little thing' happens four billion times a year at almost 30,000 locations worldwide. Not a bad way to perk up the daily grind!
7. Sony – Persistence plays
The Sony PlayStation has become a global phenomenon, but it was a project facing much resistance at first.
In the late 1980s, Sony junior staff member Ken Kutaragi, a self-proclaimed 'tinkerer', created a chip to make his daughter's Nintendo more powerful and provide a better gaming experience.
He went to his bosses with the idea of creating a new console for Sony, but he hit a wall. Sony just didn't 'do gaming', and many believed the industry was just a fad.
Refusing to give up, Kutaragi reached Sony's CEO, Norio Ohga. Increasingly aware of the value of the gaming industry, Ohga kicked off a joint venture with Nintendo. Licensing disagreements meant that the partnership eventually faded, but Sony continued to develop their own console – the PlayStation.
I wanted to prove that even regular company employees could build something big.
----- Ken Kutaragi -----
The PlayStation launched in 1994 and has sold over half a billion units since. Kutaragi went on to become Chairman and CEO at Sony, and no one at Sony questions the credibility of the gaming industry anymore.
8. 3M – Made to stick
And last but definitely not least, the simple and effective Post-it Note – a key part of any office worker's arsenal.
3M scientist Spencer Silver's invention – a sticky, but not solid, adhesive – went without use for years until Art Fry, a fellow 3M employee, needed a bookmark that would stick without damaging the pages.
Partnering with Silver, they began developing the product, realizing their potential to hold messages and communicate around the office. Fry supplied the entire company with the new notes, and they were universally loved!
I thought, what we have here isn't just a bookmark. It's a whole new way to communicate.
----- Art Fry -----
Post-it Notes now generate some $1bn annually. That's what we call sticky business!
Have we missed your favorite employee idea? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'd be delighted to add it to the list.
The Ultimate Guide to Employee Ideas
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