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.
It’s like one of those dreams where you’re trying to get somewhere but, try as you might, you just can't run fast enough. It's obviously better than the dream where you turn up to school completely naked, but is still frustrating nonetheless.
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 the majority of idea campaigns fail to make an impact? We look at the six most common mistakes businesses make when it comes to employee idea campaigns.
If you prefer, you can hit the big red play button below and listen to Sideways 6 Founder and CEO, Will Read, talking through the reasons in a 20-minute webinar. Alternatively, if our wordsmithery has you hooked, please read on!
We didn't coin the term 'start with why', but we wish we had!
The first step towards executing a successful employee ideas campaign is to know why you're carrying out the campaign 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 campaign falling flatter than a pancake on Shrove Tuesday, so remember that no ‘why’ equals no need!
Did you know?
52% of employees feel that good ideas fail to be implemented within their company.
Source: The 2018 State of Employee Ideas.
What, then, are the wrong reasons for conducting an ideas campaign?
One of the most common reasons we've come across is advice from an expert or a consultant that this is a required action. A consultant has advised an organization, for example, that because a competitor is conducting an ideas campaign, they should also be doing it.
While that might be good enough to get the ball rolling, it is rarely enough to sustain a campaign through planning, launching, communicating, evaluating and, finally, actioning – and that really defeats the point, as you are looking for something that employees can engage with throughout the process.
Some of the most successful employee idea campaigns 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.
Another strong reason for an ideas campaign comes when considering the long-term future of the business. At the front-line of business, where people are speaking to clients and customers all day long, there is a pool of information that can help to shape the destiny of any organization – you can give ownership of that future to employees.
Ask your employees! Run a survey on the key challenges your employees want to solve – link to Avios case study for example of ‘Digital Survey’.
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 campaign 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 campaign, 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! Rather than opening things up, it can be useful to communicate that you are only looking for ideas to solve one specific challenge. Other useful constraints may include a time-limit or a budget.
What's your circle of influence? Can you realistically encourage engagement and action any ideas?
A finance director working on a finance-based campaign makes complete sense, while a finance director asking people to come up with a new marketing campaign 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.
[quote about c-suite buy in]
If you can’t effect change, find someone who can!
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
----- Employee surveyed in 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 campaign.
Get support from across your company. Share the responsibility to engage different areas of the company and have managers encourage their teams to participate.
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.
----- Employee surveyed in 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, but where you are giving praise or mutual feedback, try and make it as clear-cut as you can.
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 campaigns throughout history, right back from early suggestion boxes to email-based systems.
While everyone understands that engagement is key, the last couple of decades has seen a trend of running employee ideas campaigns 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.
----- Employee surveyed in 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 campaigns 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!
Sideways 6 exists to build better businesses through employee ideas.
We believe that great ideas can come from anywhere and that giving employees a voice is the secret to business success.»