I’d like to clarify; this post is focused on ideas/creativity management and Leadership. There is lots on this blog already, and lots more to come on Innovation management and Leadership or the ‘what happens next’.
There is no question, every organisation wants ideas on new things and how to do things better; there is a clear cost benefit.
Where most fall down is the way ideas are managed, and in this post I’m going to reflect FIRSTLY on the costs associated with employee/customer engagement and future opportunities when ideas are not effectively managed. Then we’ll look at some simple tips to build idea capability and drive idea engagement.
Before we dive in, let’s agree on this; either you are prepared to take a committed approach when opening the road for ideas, or you leave it alone altogether. To quote a Yoda Facebook meme doing the rounds at the moment “There is no try, only do”.
Same with ideas.
An idea is a very personal thing…if you ask me to share my idea with you, you’re asking me to dig into my personal experiences, knowledge, the way I interpret my environment and analyse information and summarise and articulate that in an open forum where others can see it too…, essentially asking me to REVEAL to you how my mind works for the benefit of your business.
Looking at it that way, you understand why many folks are reluctant to share ideas or participate in open discussions where others may get some insight as to how and what they think. It can be quite revealing and confronting for the individual.
So, it becomes clear that managing ideas is much more about nurturing creative thinking and creative thinkers.
This speaks more clearly to the commitment an organisation is making when opening the road to ideas and innovation; it is a very personal, and specific commitment not only to innovation, but to people.
This moves us beyond the old concept of dropping a timber suggestion box underneath a pot-plant in the corner near the boss’s desk. We are talking about developing a specific capability in your business which has as much relevance and importance as any other functional area; finance, facilities, HR, marketing etc…, so you have to develop the strategy and framework with the same level of sophistication.
One of the most frequent terms you hear describing the old suggestion box approach is ‘Black Hole’; idea goes in….then nothing…ever!
Perfect segue to the issue of costs associated with poor idea management:
1. Future Ideas.
Dual Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling famously said “The best way to have a great idea is to have a lot of ideas.”
If you ask me to put my mind on the table for your benefit, and you don’t take the time to acknowledge just how personal an event this is for me, I’m unlikely to come back to the table…and I might just have the next big thing tucked away in my brain which will either never see the light of day, or will go to my next employer who is willing to recognise my creative effort.
No need to elaborate here.
This leads us to the next BIG cost…
No-one likes to be ignored, especially when what they are doing is for your benefit and you’ve asked them to do it.
It’s a bit like going to a party, introducing yourself to others, telling them what you do, asking them to get you a drink, then upon their return, asking them their name and what they do, then taking your drink and walking away to the next person before they can respond.
…it’s a very personal insult and one that erodes employee and customer engagement and undermines your efforts to create advocacy with those groups.
Again, no need to elaborate here and no need for figures….lost engagement and advocacy is costly on it’s own, let alone the costs associated with rebuilding those bridges.
Some Simple Tips:
Through the idea creation, submission and assessment stages, there are trigger points where simple mechanisms will provide a smooth conduit for the ongoing flow of ideas and in fact increase appetite for people to seek and speak.
1. Idea Submission
Every idea needs a thank you. It’s more onerous with a physical suggestion box, but if you have a way to capture ideas electronically, set-up a simple auto-response thanking each person for the idea as it comes through.
The thank you message should also include:
- The name of the idea community manager – puts a face to the framework.
- A high-level description of what happens next and time-frames – managing expectations.
- Where appropriate, contact details.
2. Idea Clarification
If there is an idea which is unclear, contact the initiator to seek clarification. Quite a powerful acknowledgement and one which strengthens engagement.
3. Idea Action
Once you’ve assessed ideas, each will have an action or next step; you’ll either close it, assess it further, or implement it.
Whatever comes next, let the initiator/community know what is happening with each idea, and if you’re closing it, tell them why. It doesn’t have to war and peace, just a simple explanation of why it won’t proceed at this time.
Keep a list of those responses so others who may be involved in responding to the community have a suite of responses to apply for each circumstance.
4. Idea Assessment/Implementation
Where practicable, give initiators some ‘skin in the game’ when assessing or implementing ideas. This could be as simple as providing your idea assessment matrix to that person (or a scaled back version….you do have one right?) and asking them to self-rate/self-assess their idea in the context of the business.
Taking that one step further, and this is more likely to happen with employees than customers, (but it’s not exclusive), involving the initiator in bringing the idea to life….again as little or as much as is practicable.
5. We did it!!!!
Here’s the loop-back and cycle feeder. Recognise and reward.
Recognition is like sunscreen; apply it liberally, frequently and in the right areas.
Be liberal with your recognition, let everyone in the community know.
Reward – quite a different story and there are lots of implications and ramifications around how this is structured, so we’ll save that for a future. dedicated post.
By broadcasting success and recognising your initiator and creative community, you build appetite and confidence for others to come forward, and this feeds into your ideation cycle driving your Seek and Speak idea culture.