Give Employees a Voice, But
Don’t Give Away the Company
The answer to this question is that you need to create a corporate culture built around qualitative ideas and quantitative data. It’s great to encourage unique and creative ideas, but what is the rationale behind them? Will they stand up under rigorous analysis? Will data help to support the case or not? You might just say that the goal of any organization is to find those off-the-wall brainstorm ideas that are so crazy that they might just work.
First and most importantly, you need to establish transparent criteria for evaluating all new ideas. By establishing these criteria up front, you can eliminate any perception that some ideas are the “pet projects” of favored employees. You can also establish the rules of the game for employees: they need to come up with great ideas that are going to push forward the business success of the company.
Sample criteria might include the following:
· Implementation: How easy the idea is to implement (i.e. speed to market)
· ROI: How quickly the idea will lead to a return on investment
· Resources: How many resources (both financial and HR) the idea will require
· Strategy: How well the idea matches with current strategic priorities
In the best-case scenario, of course, new employee ideas will be easy to implement (what business consultants typically refer to as the “low-hanging fruit”). An idea should pay for itself within a very short timeframe and be relatively affordable to implement – without allocating significant budget resources.
Analyzing new ideas based on data
Next, you will need to create a data-based model that can compare various competing ideas. It’s one thing for an employee to suggest that your organization should start to target an entirely new market niche or create an entirely new product – but another thing entirely to make the business case for doing so. Thus, it’s best if the data-based model attaches specific weights to criteria that are the most important for your organization.
It’s best to encourage employees to support their ideas with data rather than with just “gut feelings.” For example, say that employees have been pushing for a new flexible work environment. Instead of just “giving away the company” and turning the scheduling system upside down to accommodate a group of your employees, ask for some form of proof that such a flexible work environment would actually pay off. One data point, for example, might involve employee productivity. If employees can show that workplace productivity will soar, then why not consider it?
A free marketplace of ideas
An additional advantage of focusing on data, of course, is that you can make a rational case for choosing Idea A over Idea B or Idea C. Organizations should focus on becoming a free marketplace of ideas where the best ideas win. Employees will feel like their ideas are being respected, and that their best ideas are being evaluated on a neutral, unbiased basis.
The key, of course, is being able to balance the qualitative and the quantitative aspects of great ideas. As business consultants often point out, you want to encourage blue sky thinking, but you also want ideas that are actually going to work and achieve company goals.
Mastering the balancing act
A company that has done this balancing act extremely well is Google. They’ve found the right measure of encouraging employee suggestions and then choosing the best ideas based on data. For example, when Google was looking to transform its corporate dining experience, it took a lot of employee suggestions into account. The company asked employees about what kinds of perks they wanted, what type of design they thought would work best, and what the experience should look like.
As a result, some great ideas bubbled to the top. Then Google set to work, crunching all the data to see what would work best for the company. The company found that a “grab-and-go” system, in which stressed-out employees could just race into a dining hall, grab some free food, and get back to work wasn’t the optimal solution. Instead, the company found that the optimal solution was a waiting time of 3-4 minutes, to encourage “casual collisions” between employees. The company also found that adding long lunch tables encouraged employees from completely different parts of the organization to eat together and share ideas.
Google then applied this type of thinking throughout the organization. They again crunched the data and found that meeting room layouts that had diner booths rather than bland old conference tables were more effective in getting people to feel like they were part of a team and speak up. You can see how Google brilliantly balanced the concerns of its employees (“give us free stuff!”) and the concerns of its leaders (“give us great ideas!”) in order to create an optimal solution. Google listened to its employees, without giving away the company.
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Quote of the Day:
“Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.” – Jim Goodnight