Employee Engagement’s Link to Innovation

innovation at workLast week I contributed to a campaign on Indiegogo. I’ve only done this twice in the past few years, so it was definitely something intriguing that caught my eye. Several things that drew me to the specific project:

  • It represented the first innovation in this particular type of product in more than 30 years
  • It’s a pain point I personally have struggled with for some time

The sheer amount of ideas flowing through crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo, Kickstarter, RocketHub, and others is astounding. The ability for someone to put an idea out there and garner support (or not) is one that organizations could leverage for employee engagement.

Innovation as an Engagement Metric?

How many employee-generated ideas do you implement in a given year? One? One hundred? One thousand? Because it matters to them, and it’s an opportunity to improve the business and engagement.

Last year I read The Idea-Driven Organization and thoroughly enjoyed the book. The main concept of the book was the power of listening to employee suggestions, giving them serious consideration, and implementing them when feasible.

It’s fundamental, really. We all know that we should be listening to our employees. That goes without saying. However, the next step is actively soliciting input and then acting upon it. Instead of ignoring or fearing employee input, go the extra mile to encourage them to provide suggestions. The authors share a story that I think is a powerful reminder of this.

Employees at a bar had the opportunity to provide input on their jobs through submitting ideas. There were few, if any restrictions on the type of ideas, so one might expect them to pick some that made their work easier.

But it turns out that was often associated with an improvement in the customer experience as well. For instance, instead of having to carry a massive carton of empty bottles down to the cellar when it filled up, they installed a chute at the back of the bar for empty bottles to slide down to the cellar unassisted. This decreased the risk of workplace injuries from walking down stairs with heavy objects, improved customer service by not pulling away a service employee during a busy shift, and allowed bartenders to monitor and discard the empty bottles unassisted.

Even if nothing else came from these ideas other than the improved customer service results, it would be worthwhile. Yet it also improved the engagement levels of the employees by eliminating a non-value- added task from their daily work.

A former employer of mine had what we called “The Big Ideas Database.” It was a grandiose title for a spreadsheet, but it also helped to frame the mindset when submitting ideas. Any employee could share an idea through the web form and it would be considered by leadership for implementation. The more cost/complexity, the more approvals it required.

Many of the ideas were actually acted upon. Some were quite minor (larger garbage bags in the break room), but others were considerably more important (repurposing/licensing a piece of software led to an additional $2 million in sales annually). Employees were actually excited about sharing ideas via the platform as a way to drive innovation and continuously serve customers better.

Recognition of Ideas is Employee Recognition

My colleague Madeline Laurano speaks often about recognition and its importance. I’d say that recognizing the employees’ ideas is an integral part of the entire recognition process. Would we say to an employee, “Thanks for your efforts, now take your ideas and get back to work?” Probably not.

Taking the time to consider suggestions and implement the ones that make sense is a way to keep your employees interested and continuously innovating the way they work every day.

Do you solicit ideas from employees? Do you actually act upon them? What success stories have you seen?

Ben Eubanks, Associate HCM Analyst, Brandon Hall Group


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