The sad reality is there are too many employees who are happy coming in day after day and collecting a paycheck. Many rarely contribute significant ideas that can help boost their organization’s bottom line – even to contribute simple process improvements. This is likely to be the perspective of an owner, co-owner or partner of a company.
On the other hand, from the employee’s perspective, he or she may be hesitant to contribute ideas believing that they might fall into a ‘black hole’ – being ignored due to the organization’s political landscape. Perhaps the employee might be concerned that contributing an idea might come across the wrong way. Will others translate ideas for improving the company’s bottom line and processes as the employee being arrogant, aggressive competition or trying to take over a department (or the organization)? Some might think others will ask “who does this guy or girl think he/she is?”
I once contributed an idea I firmly believed could help an employer pull in significant revenue and it was ignored by more than one manager, even when shared a year later on the organization’s virtual suggestion box. This is evidence of a flawed political environment.
These are the two sides of the coin. Google and 3M have likely considered both sides as they are perhaps best known for their innovation. 3M even encourages employees to spend a percentage of their time researching and testing new ideas. So long as these ideas are in line with the company’s mission/goals, these can convert to big profits. The company benefits and those involved with leading these successes are rewarded financially (either through a bonus and/or salary increase) and recognition through a title change/promotion. The latter is important in any innovation program – employees should be recognized for their successes and even failures – and as odd as it sounds, failed attempts should be rewarded with constructive criticism. As all entrepreneurs know, multiple failures tend to lead to success. Of course the only caveat is someone should not repeat previous failures expecting different results (as Einstein famously said).
Organizational politics need to be reshaped, perhaps encouraging groups to operate within silos instead of a traditional hierarchical organization tree, or strict reporting structure common in the military. Executives need to stop taking (and accepting) full credit for ideas and contributions from those in their team. They should also avoid getting in the habit of ignoring ideas and at least get back to their team members with some kind of feedback. If something is not directly tied to a particular goal or the company’s mission, that should be communicated while offering the constructive feedback to set the tone for new ideas. You might think this is stating the obvious… but interestingly, I once contributed an idea I firmly believed could help an employer pull in significant revenue and it was ignored by more than one manager, even when shared a year later on the organization’s virtual suggestion box. This is evidence of a flawed political environment.
More companies need to encourage idea sharing and offer revenue sharing programs (based on the value of successes) if new ideas prove to be successful. To be blunt, an employee might even be hesitant to share ideas if they believe they will not hear any feedback and even sit on the idea until their non-compete agreement expires after leaving the company. The revenue sharing program has an added benefit in that it increases employee retention/happiness, while helping the organization succeed and be more competitive. In addition, companies should encourage (and even mandate) training for and regular use for any products/services they offer outside the company. This helps everyone understand the products/services offered to best explain what your company does and perhaps help match your company with effective partnerships, or improving the functionality/revenue generating options behind them. Prospective clients enjoy hearing about how all employees/contractors are certified in a particular product/service being sold by the company as it helps show organization structure, among other traits.
Companies should encourage idea sharing while emphasizing that doing such exemplifies loyalty to the company and that it will never come across as stepping on another’s toes, being aggressively competitive, or taking over another area of the business. In addition, C-level executives should ensure that immediate managers thank and provide feedback to those contributing the ideas, rather than letting the ideas fall into a black hold or ‘idea folder’ that never gets proper attention. Without proper recognition, these employees contributing the ideas will likely leave your organization and leave behind those who simply want to do the minimum they are asked to do and collect their regular paychecks.