Employees are more engaged if they have a sense of purpose. Recognising ideas that employees have for new products and services or improved organisational process gives them a sense of value and increases engagement. John Sylvester talks to Training Journal about creating an environment that stimulates innovation.
A survey from Deloitte has found that 57 percent of employees who believe they work at a ‘purpose-driven’ company are engaged and report a high level of job satisfaction, compared to just 23 percent of those who don’t. The benefits are not just soft and fluffy — 69 percent of people who work at a company with a strong sense of purpose report that the company has performed well financially in the past year, compared with 41 percent of employees who feel they work at company lacking a strong sense of purpose.
There is a clear connection between leadership competencies and an organisation’s capacity to foster ideas and innovation. Development of leadership skills is strongly aligned with enhanced innovation. McKinsey and Company research also shows that most executives are generally disappointed in their ability to stimulate innovation: some 65 percent of the senior executives it surveyed were lacking confidence about the decisions they make in this area.
In a separate McKinsey and Company survey of 600 global business executives, managers, and professionals, respondents pointed to leadership as the best predictor of innovation performance. Those who described their own organisation as more innovative than other companies in its industry rated its leadership capabilities as ‘strong’ or ‘very strong.’ Conversely, managers who believed that the ability of their own organisation to innovate was below average rated its leadership capabilities as significantly lower and, in some cases, as poor.
Formalise ideas management
If leaders define ‘innovation’ as a corporate value alongside the likes of customer service and support it with mechanisms for rewarding ideas and driving regular input from staff, businesses will benefit from innovation-driven growth. There is clear need for a formalised system to manage ideas. It is not enough just to state that innovation is a corporate value — if just a couple of managers are distracted by their workload and drop the ball, a valuable idea could be lost or a member of staff could become disheartened by the lack of response to a good idea.
Young Millennials with fresh ideas hold little regard for traditional hierarchies. They want their voice to be heard and they expect to have the ear of the senior team immediately. An ideas portal works well for this group, providing a social media-style solution that may be combined with rewards for good ideas.
Much of the administration associated with running and communicating an ideas portal can be automated or outsourced, saving line managers time while providing them with regular reports keeping them in the loop with ideas employees have suggested. Data from the portal can feed into the performance management process, allowing managers to see who is coming up with lots of good ideas and who is less engaged or innovative and may need training, development, confidence boosting or to be in a more process-based role.
A minority of companies use incentives to mine employees for innovative ideas but this approach has been very successful. British gaming company Talarius wanted employees to see their ideas came to life and to know that their suggestions had a positive impact on the business. Talarius is the UK’s largest operator of Adult Gaming Centres (AGCs), with over 1,000 employees. It implemented its ‘Call the Slots’ online portal for staff ideas. In keeping with Talarius’ gaming business, the site uses Las Vegas style colours and images, combined with elements of gamification to stimulate proactive thinking.
Management evaluates ideas every month and rewards staff with points that can be redeemed against merchandise or vouchers. Employees are encouraged to put forward as many suggestions as they wish, and winners are publicly announced each month. This has resulted in over 100 ideas that have been accepted and implemented to date.
Tips to create a culture of innovation
Make idea submission a two-way communication process. Always communicate where an idea is – if it’s been accepted what actions have been taken, if it’s delayed, what are the timescales? And if it’s rejected, give good business reasons why. Reinforce the launch of an ideas portal with regular tactical communications throughout the year.
- Make idea generation fun — add gamification and social elements to replace the dusty old suggestion box in the corner.
- Get senior managers involved — employees need to see that their ideas are taken seriously. This will support an open door policy and strip away any fear of approaching a director with ideas.
- Recognise ideas whether or not they are implemented — this will encourage further suggestions in future.
- Make it clear that ideas can come from anywhere—not just a product development team. Simply streamlining an existing process can save time and money. Employees don’t need to come up with the next iPad.
Many of the benefits of developing a formal ideas management system are tangible and measurable and translate into higher sales totals, cost saving efficiencies and greater customer satisfaction scores. At the same time, making employee ideas count will improve productivity and increase employee engagement to drive the business.