Fill Up Your Suggestions Box

Published by Grahame Cox on

Your suggestions box is a good barometer of how engaged employees are in their company’s innovation efforts. Is your suggestions box empty, gathering dust? If so, your fellow employees either think someone else is doing it, it doesn’t matter or no-one will be interested in what they have to say. Your employees probably don’t spend much time worrying about coming up with new idea for your business. If your suggestions box is empty, then you’re missing out. 

The great advantage of engaging your workforce in creating idea lies in their diversity. All too often the task of ‘coming up with the big idea’ is left to a small, select band of people. This group are probably very similar in background, experience, education……. and as a result, all of the research I have seen suggests that this similarity will extend to the range and type of ideas they generate. Widening the pool from which you source your ideas can deliver some surprisingly different results. So why not involve the whole company and benefit from the diversity that exists? Doing so will mean you get a broader range of ideas. Like all ideation approaches, some of these ideas will be totally irrelevant, others totally impractical….. but we all know we only need one great idea to get us started on our innovation journey.

Google famously gives its people 15% of their time to work on future ideas. Whilst I agree that you need to commit to give your people time to devote to coming up with ideas, I am also a big fan of letting people know what you want them to think about. I don’t know if Google do it, but I would suggest you give everyone a clear brief outlining the problem (or problems) you would like them to think about solving. I also find that delivering this brief in person, at team meetings or company ‘town halls’, benefits the process and shows that you are taking their involvement seriously.

You could always rely on the good old suggestions box to capture their ideas. The trick with all ideas schemes is to ensure you let people know ideas have been received, are being considered, and tell people what you have done with their ideas. If you let people’s ideas gather dust – it won’t be long before your suggestions box is gathering dust too. Interestingly, research suggests that offering a financial incentive doesn’t increase the flow of ideas; on the other hand showing that you are taking everyone’s efforts seriously, that ideas will be carefully considered and some taken forward, does. Put some effort in, and your employees will also make the effort.

On the other hand, you could be more pro-active with your approach. I have worked in companies, and with clients, who run a programme of ideas sessions across the company – either with individual departments or in workshops with a cross section of the company in them. It’s always fascinating to see how the cross-fertilisation of different experiences and points of view creates different ideas.

Making the whole process a bit more exciting, building in an element of competition, can further increase the flow of ideas. In one company I worked for we ran an annual ‘X-Factor’ style competition. Departments were given a brief and encouraged to come up with ideas, either working in teams or alone. We ran various departmental competitions (think judges houses!) to find the ‘best’ ideas to go forward to represent that particular department or division at a grand final. In the final, the various teams pitched their ideas, Dragon’s Den style, to a panel of the CEO and his team – that made a strong statement to everyone that ideas were important, and that it was worth entering the competition. The end result, lots of great ideas, very different, that we made a commitment to add to our innovation funnel…… and lots more entries the next time we ran the competition.

Is it time to think about how you could fill up your suggestions box