Leaving Ideas on the Table

Leaving Ideas on the Table

While companies may go to extraordinary lengths to ensure they don’t leave money “on the table,” many of them aren’t a fraction as frugal when it comes to ideas.

Could your company be leaving good ideas on the table?

One of the statements in our survey asks employees to reflect on management’s receptivity to new ideas.  “Management genuinely seeks and responds to suggestions and ideas.”  At the 100 Best Companies to Work for, 80% of employees believe this statement “almost always” to be true.  At the lower 100, a self-selecting group of companies that believe they are good enough to make the 100 Best list and are often quite good workplaces, 64% of employees believe that statement to almost always be true.

If at pretty great workplaces one-fifth to one-third of employees feel like their suggestions are not being sought or heard, how would your employees respond?  Can your company really afford to leave good ideas on the table?

To help you get started, I’ve put together a quick and easy plan for how managers can start building a company where no idea is left behind.  Here goes:

1. Listen.  When was the last time you made a change, or looked something up, or brought up an idea that was given to you by an employee?  Answer honestly.  If you can’t remember when that last happened, you are probably not listening as much or as well as you think you are. 

2. Embrace that your employees know their jobs as well as you think you know their jobs.  Companies that are good at listening have a fundamental belief that the person who is doing the job is the person who knows the job best.  Is that your belief?  If you think good ideas are only in the boardroom, you are missing out on the expertise that your front-line employees can bring to the conversation.

3.  Invite suggestions.  Listening is good, but asking even better. 

4.  Join us in Chicago next week for Enabling Innovation.  Shameless promotion, I know.  I feel horrible, really.  But, if you want to learn from companies that are really good at soliciting suggestions and actively listening, you should be there.  If you don’t think listening to employees is critical to success or innovation, these companies may convince you otherwise.

5.  Be prepared to act.  If you are going to listen, you’ve got to be prepared to act.  You’ve got to recognize a good idea when you hear it and put some energy and resources behind bringing it to life.  If you are uncomfortable with this, start small.  Remember, the suggestion you act on doesn’t need to be something big or costly.  The more often you do this, the easier and more comfortable it will become.

6.  Acknowledge where the idea came from. Sure, recognition is nice for the person or team that came up with the idea and saying “thank you” is just good manners.  But more importantly, acknowledging where the idea came from sends the message to your employees that you are listening.  You are open and ready to receive their ideas. 

If you are not going to your employees to ask them for their suggestions and ideas, you are for certain leaving ideas on the table.  If the right idea can yield big benefits for your company, you’re probably leaving money on that table too, and I know that’s something not many of us can afford.