Think of something. Anything. Chances are, whatever you thought of started with an idea. Someone, somewhere said, “I have an idea.” “Everything begins with an idea.” — Earl Nightingale
Your organization started as someone’s idea. The way you do a certain thing is a manifestation of an idea about how it should be done. In my post on the Engager Dynamic called “Solicit,” I talked about where the best ideas about improving work come from. They usually come from your front-line employees. The ones who have their hands on the work everyday most often have great ideas about how to make it better, easier, more efficient, higher quality, safer.
Putting it to Work
There are many ways to collect employee ideas. You could use the old standard “Suggestion Box” located in a prominent place. You could send out questionnaires or surveys on paper or using one of the online survey tools. SurveyMonkey is one I’ve used many times with success. There are also web based programs designed to make suggestion collection easy. Collecting suggestions is only part of the path. Once you have several ideas you need to take action. Failure to acknowledge and act on ideas will shut down the innovative participation of your team. Here are a few suggestions about action steps you can take:
- Form a team – if you don’t already have something like this in place, form a small team of 8 – 12 people. Front line employees should be represented on the team, preferably from a cross-section of your group. You should also include at least one supervisor and a manager. Call it something cool. I’ve heard of PIT Crew (Process Improvement Team) and UBT (Unit Based Team) for example. This team will perform the next steps.
- Pick 1 or 2 ideas – have your small team select the best 1 or, at the most, 2 ideas as projects. Define the criteria you’ll use to select the projects like “easiest to implement,” “most return on investment,” or “biggest impact on department morale.”
- Define your Measurements – you need to know how you measure what you’re trying to improve. These measurements are usually expressed as some ratio, injuries x 200,000 / Actual hours worked, for example, is the formula for a safety incident rate. It could be complaints per department or calls per hour depending on your work. Establish the baseline. “Right now we’re producing x parts per hour” or whatever it may be.
- Establish Goals – what does improvement look like? Set two goals. One is the minimum improvement required to decide the idea is worth implementing. The second is a stretch goal, a “What if we could get to this level?” kind of goal.
- Conduct a Small Test – use the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Adopt or Adapt or Abandon) model. Plan a test of your project idea in a small area and/or for a short time. Make sure you are able to collect enough measurable data during your test. Do the test. Check the results along the way as they come in and at the end of the test. What do the results tell you?
- Act – the test results will determine what the “A” stands for, which action you will take. You will decide the ideas was great and you should adopt it across the organization or the results will suggest another course of action. You may find you want to adapt it and run another test to see if a small adjustment will improve the results. Or, you may decide the idea won’t work and you abandon it and move on to another project.
- Communicate – this should run all the way through the steps. Communicate with your whole organization about forming the team, about the project you’re working on, the goals, the test and then the results. Explain the “Why” for each of the steps especially your action. Finally, be sure to celebrate the team and the originator of the idea. If you adopted the idea give credit to the person or group who came up with it for improving work for everyone. If you abandoned it, celebrate the innovative thinking. All this will encourage your people to continue sharing great ideas.
Making it a Habit
All the above is a formal way to make a habit out of Soliciting ideas from your employees as an organization. As a leader it’s important for you to be involved either directly on the team or showing your continuing support of the team as its sponsor. If you’re not on the team, check on their progress frequently.
There is something you can do to make “solicit” a habit on a more personal level, You know that greeting we often use, “How’s it going?” We usually just say that or something like it as a substitute for “Hello” and move on not expecting a meaningful answer. Why not make a slight adjustment to that? What if you made it a point to walk by your team members from time to time and say, “Hello.” Then ask, “What’s going well right now?” Take the time to listen. It wouldn’t hurt to write down a note, too. Then ask, “What one thing could we do to improve our work?” Definitely take notes on the answer to that question.
If you’ve done what I suggested in the previous section, you have a place to take the great idea(s) you’ve just received.People often have great ideas about how to improve work and the organization overall. Sharing those ideas and seeing them implemented is the very definition of Engagement. What will you do today to move yourself and your organization toward making “Solicit” a habit?