Organizations that are either considered high performing or who aspire to become high performing understand that their employees are their greatest asset. A company can only achieve its overall objectives if their employees are aligned, on board and driving toward those goals.
At its core your employees understand how well or how poorly the day-to-day processes in your company run better than anyone else. They also have tremendous ideas on how to improve those processes, how to improve your metrics, and how to achieve your objectives.
So how do you tap in to that intellect, unleash those ideas, and empower your employees in an organized and efficient manner? How do you get your finger on the pulse of what is on your employee's minds?
In one company I joined we had thousands of employees scattered both geographically and functionally. We also had a company wide mandate to effect a fundamental transformation of the culture, the business processes, and the financial performance of the company. We could only achieve those objectives if we had all of our employees on board and helping us improve the business.
I have a basic belief that your employees have a tremendous number of ideas on how to improve the business. Virtually everyone wants to do a better job and make their company more successful. The employees are often only missing the opportunity to have someone listen to them and to be heard.
We decided up front that we wanted to solicit ideas from all employees. Whether those ideas were big or small was somewhat irrelevant as every improvement would move the company forward. And at its core we needed to create a learning organization with a culture of innovation.
To get started fast we decided to create a single, central email address for all employees to send their ideas to. The response was amazing. We very quickly received a lot of ideas. But the problem was that the email address was a very poor format for administering such a program. We knew that if we didn't acknowledge each idea rapidly and provide a response of some kind that we would quickly squander all of the goodwill that goes with asking employees for their ideas. We needed another solution.
Find Your Ideas Innovation Platform
We needed a platform which would allow us to efficiently solicit and administer a tremendous number of unfiltered ideas from employees. We wanted a platform which was easily accessible and intuitive to everyone. And we wanted a platform which would in itself represent the innovation that we were looking to cultivate from everyone.
Our team found an outside organization that had developed custom employee idea collaboration software (http://www.soapboxhq.com). We worked with them and made adjustments to suit our purpose and quickly implemented the software.
Fundamentally the software allowed any employee to input an idea online, which every other employee (who was signed up) could see. Employees had the ability online to make comments on any idea and they had the ability to vote (thumb up or thumb down) on any idea. All of this was visible to every employee.
Further the tool allowed us to create reports automatically and it made the administration of the program much simpler and more manageable. Most importantly the tool represented a step function improvement in our approach to employee collaboration and cultural transformation.
Employees immediately grasped the concept. Within our first 18 months we had almost 3,000 ideas, over 5,000 active comments on those ideas, and over 70,000 votes (for or against) those ideas. Hundreds of the ideas had been completely implemented and hundreds more were in the process of being implemented. And we made a point of visibly recognizing everyone who submitted ideas as well as the successes that arose because of the individuals and teams whose ideas we implemented.
The message was very clear. Our employees did have phenomenal ideas. They were just waiting for Executive support and for someone to ask them and to listen to them. They just wanted the opportunity to be a part of the change we were telling them that we needed. Subsequent employee opinion surveys showed a clear and significant improvement in morale and engagement from this initiative.
Many of the ideas were small and localized in impact but they were important nonetheless. Other ideas evolved through the process of voting and commenting which made the original ideas even stronger. And still other ideas could be combined given their similarity and commonality, creating even greater reinforcement for their importance. Most importantly the employees had visibility to all of this activity and they enthusiastically participated in this collaborative community.
Our challenge continued to be one of administration though it had been made much easier with the collaboration software. For every idea we needed to provide immediate acknowledgement and thanks. For every idea we had to ensure that there was an owner who would take up the responsibility to evaluate the idea and if it made sense to see it through to implementation. And we had to ensure that the assessments and all implementation steps were acted on aggressively. Indecision and delays would be detrimental to our progress.
You must have an administrative process of governance, and a leader, that will ensure that forward progress is made in hearing, assessing and deciding on each employee idea. You need to provide visible and credible Executive sponsorship for the program and you need to demonstrate that you can break through barriers without which the momentum will fade over time.
Addressing these challenges systemically is critical. Without a solution for this you will end up with a lot of unimplemented ideas and a lot of employees questioning the sincerity of asking for their input in the first place, all of which will undermine the cultural change you are after. But if you can solve for these challenges you will truly have created a collaborative, innovative and learning organization.
Employees are tired of hearing Executives talk about the need to improve productivity and profitability but who then never give employees the opportunity to share and implement their own ideas.
To drive truly Game Changing results you need a team of motivated and engaged employees beside you. No single person can do all of this alone and no single person is the hero.
Providing a platform to allow your employees to share their ideas and get the entire organization invested in implementing them will move you well along the path to becoming a High Performing Organization. But that platform must be accompanied by a process of governance to ensure that active administration of the program is in place.
Allow your employees to share their ideas and you will build a culture of continuous improvement from these ideas, the subsequent actions and the ensuing results.
Continuous improvement is a journey and listening to your employees is the start of an ongoing conversation along your way!