How often have you had employees share ideas that eventually turned into viable products, services, or business processes? Your employees have a unique insight into the front-line of your business; their ideas can prove invaluable. However, if your business is like most, their input is seldom recognized. Why? It seems most ideas- however good- fall victim to a lack of drive, support, resources, time, or any number of other things. Let's face it, transforming even a great idea into reality isn't an easy thing to do! But, as Tom Hanks said in the movie A League of Their Own, “'It's supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
The thing is, businesses thrive on ideas… generating, cultivating, executing, and implementing them. However, businesses all too often fail at getting their own people to share ideas that could stimulate conversations that result in improved products, services and processes. Studies show that most employees believe their ideas will either be rejected outright, or never implemented. The result is that they are usually more comfortable being told what to do than they are offering up suggestions. And that's bad for business.
Your employees know things about your company you probably don't. They realize before the sales reports are in which products and services customers do and don't like. They hear client complaints. They see what's behind the uptick or slowdown in sales. They know right away whether the new marketing campaign is bringing people into the store.
Respecting their ideas can bring an abundance of fresh perspectives that might otherwise be overlooked, all while creating an environment in which workers are engaged and feel a sense of ownership for the success of the business. It's a win/win! Employees may well be an organization's single best source of innovative strategies and tactics. And while there may be many reasons to look outside for broader perspectives, studies show that involved employees become more engaged and productive, retention rates are higher, and customer satisfaction levels increase.
So then, how do you get your employees to speak up and share their ideas? Here's a list of the top five most successful ways to engage the “idea engine” of your employees:
- Listen to them. Relaxed, informal brainstorming sessions where people are encouraged (but not required) to participate can get employees to share thoughts and challenge each other in non-threatening ways.
- Motivate them. Research shows that while employees expect to be paid fairly, money isn't a particularly good intrinsic motivator. Things like involvement, respect for ideas, opportunities for growth and development, a sense of accomplishment, and autonomy are.
- Respect them. Being dismissive of one employee's ideas will quickly shut down the whole team because others will fear the same treatment.
- Inform them. Employees need to know what's important to the success of the business and what you have planned for the future. They can't help you overcome challenges if they don't know what they are.
- Ask them. Getting feedback from employees – just as you would from customers – will give them a stake in the company's success and help owners and managers find much-needed answers to complex problems.