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Ron Thomas

Buck Consultants

Director of Talent And HR Solutions

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Blog: Great ideas can come from anywhere – if you’re prepared to listen


“Don’t credit me with that success. That idea came from a janitor at the NFL Films production facility. He suggested that we take all the fumbles and mishaps and put them to music.”

That statement was from Steve Sabol, the late co-founder (with his father, Ed) of NFL Films. NFL Films was started by accident by his father from his love for home movies. Steve recently passed away from cancer, but his thoughts were captured in a documentary on how they built their organisation

Have you ever seen the segment where all the fumbles and hits are compiled into a popular show of its own? As a matter of fact, it has become a brand itself within the company franchise. And, that idea came from possibly the lowest person on the org chart.

I thought of three (3) dynamics that played out when I heard Steve Sabol’s statement about the janitor:

  • Having an organisation that creates an environment where everyone brings value and feels comfortable in being heard;
  • Having employees who believe that their voices can be heard;
  • Having leadership that will acknowledge and give credit to their employees.

The big word that every organisation talks about today is “innovation.” Everyone is looking, seeking searching, for that illusive next step. Everyone is asking where and the how. Value comes in all sizes and titles. However, all eyes are on the leadership team to come up with the “Aha’s” of innovation.

The leadership team devises strategy, but they do not have a lock on innovation. As a matter of fact, this type of thinking is harmful to an organization. I could never quite understand how a certain group of people could have all the answers. Who anointed them with all the brain power?

The janitor tale exemplifies the fact that everyone and anyone within your organisation can add value to the business. The company that unleashes their workforce on the issues that an organisation is facing will have empowered everyone to think beyond their current role.

Imagine if someone from your mail room (or the janitor for that matter) had an idea for your organization. Would they be listened to, or better still, would they feel they could come forward with it?

Getting a solution from those closest to the problem

Top down solutions? No matter how well meaning and intelligent you are, they don’t work as well as listening to those people that are closest to the problem and using their smarts and what they know.

To solve any problem you have to involve those people closest to the problem. Make sure that they are involved in planning and implementing a solution.

While the janitor at NFL Films was not closest to the problem, he worked in an environment that he felt comfortable bringing his ideas forward.

I worked in an environment at one time in my career that if you were not one of the hotshots, forget about it. No one thought or cared what you said if you were not one of the chosen few.

Innovation is not about the competition; it is about cooperation and collaboration inside the business itself. This self-induced incubator should provide the warmth and the nutrients to generate new and better ideas that will solve problems, create value, and ultimately change the world.

This type of organisation will not have an engagement problem or a talent problem. What it will have is a selection problem: trying to select the best talent in the recruiting process since talent always flocks to organisations that are deemed as talent factories.

Everyone wants to work for an organisation that is a fertile ground for new ideas and world changing technology, product, mission, and value.

Value is not bestowed by your title

Value is not bestowed by the car we drive, the home we live in, or as in organisations, by the coveted title we hold. I once heard a vice president state that someone was trying to show him how to do a task a better way, and he remarked was that HE was the one who had the VP title after his name. He sadly assumed that he was always going to be smarter and more technically savvy than one of his direct reports.

That kind of attitude is not a single event by a solitary person. That kind of attitude perpetuates corporate America. It is just one of the ills that are hampering the dawn of a new organisational mindset that will be needed by everyone on the org chart to move companies back so that they are firing on all cylinders.

If you are a leader of your company, everyone that walks through your doors, passes you in the hallway, or glances up at you as you walk by could have the idea that takes your organisation to the next level.

The question is, will you be willing to hear it?

Ron Thomas is director of talent and HR solutions at HR consultancy, Buck Consultants.

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Ron Thomas

Director of Talent And HR Solutions

Read more from Ron Thomas