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Paul Carter

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Mission impossible: how to ensure that no employee suggestion is left behind


Lord Kitchener’s famous pointing finger once pushed people towards the battlefields of World War One. One hundred years later, he’s pointing at you, me and every other employee to turn ideas into reality to make employee suggestion schemes a success.

The moustachioed field marshal adorns office walls across the UK, using the ‘your company needs you’ motto to foster a partisan spirit in change management.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to join the dots between ideas and execution, to ensure they lead to more than air dusters for keyboards and an IT issues mailbox.

As always, should you or any of your team fail, the chief executive will deny any knowledge of your actions in the annual report. This campaign will self-destruct in five seconds if you do not establish what needs to change and work with the business to evaluate and implement the ideas that can make a difference. Good luck, this is mission impossible.

Running the campaign

Managers tell their teams ‘there’s no such thing as a bad idea’, hoping this vote of confidence will give people the courage to share. But this ‘all ideas welcome’ approach is why staff suggestion boxes are always empty. People don’t lack courage or ideas; they lack faith in the organisation’s employee voice and ability to deliver change. Before you charge ahead to challenge this stigma, you must have a credible campaign worth investing in.

Business Psychologist Samantha Antoniou of Time Currency Ltd says, “Whatever you do, don’t call it an ‘employee suggestion scheme’! Lead balloon. Enough said. Instead, create a brand that will generate a buzz and encourage participation.”

HSBC Exchange (or “shut-up and listen” as was the more informal phrase), McDonalds’ Secret Menu Challenge and Ideation Fortnight at Danone are all great examples. Samantha believes if you’re successful in devising an attractive format, you’ll be inundated with ideas, ranging from small, step changes, to radical game changers. It’s important to plan every step of the campaign.

Plan every step

  1. Identify a campaign topic which appeals to people across the organisation and is aligned to business goals, such as ‘how to improve internal customer service’.
  2. Form a campaign team of people who understand the business and want to make a difference, and have a communications strategy and project plan to ensure everyone knows what they are doing.
  3. Establish the criteria for assessing ideas to produce a shortlist of recommendations. Liaise with stakeholders to evaluate the recommendations, using employee forums, director panels, focus groups, voting buttons at employee conferences and collaboration tools like Slack.
  4. Ease the processing burden by giving line managers a thumbs up for making the smaller, local improvements within their teams. Don’t be fooled into thinking that common sense makes this a normal occurrence, as there is often a sense of ‘waiting for permission’ or fear of reprisal that stifles local change. Show that managers are trusted and you’ll gain a lot more momentum.
  5. Respond to all ideas, using information from corporate reports and business projects to provide accurate and informed feedback.
  6. Communicate and reward the implementation of ideas.

Delivering results

Employee suggestion schemes offer a collaborative approach to increasing competitiveness and innovation in the workplace, encouraging teams to take ownership of their business areas and work across boundaries to deliver innovation and change. They can be linked with employee awards, performance reviews and professional development to make it a mutually beneficial exercise for organisations and employees.

Hindsight and reflection support informed decision-making, but the McKinsey podcast Reorganization Rules That Work stresses the importance of focusing on where the business is headed when making organisational changes, rather than trying to fix the problems of the past.

People don’t lack courage or ideas; they lack faith in the organisation’s ability to deliver change.

Plan, communicate, evaluate and deliver to escape no man’s land and survive mission impossible. When the CEO is pointing his finger at you and asking what happened to the good ideas, you can respond by saying people from a diverse range of backgrounds came together to make the organisation a better place to work.

One Response

  1. Hi Paul, you’ve hit the nail
    Hi Paul, you’ve hit the nail on the head with a lack of belief in action being the reason why employees might let the tumbleweed roll through the office when asked for suggestions. I cannot emphasise the feedback loop enough to build confidence that stuff gets done!

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Paul Carter

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