Are You Still Driving Your Ideas Down From the Top?

Posted on April 23, 2014.

I recently attended a conference for the National Center of Employee Ownership (NCEO).  As you might expect, there were several keynote speakers, but one in particular caught my attention.

Dean Schroeder is co-author of The Idea-Driven Organization, which as the title suggests, is all about where to find the best ideas. I haven’t read the entire book yet, but I started taking notes when he said, “80% of ideas that save money come from the frontline”.  You may be saying, ‘Who doesn’t know that’”. But I would ask, then why does so much change come from the top down?

If we’re honest with ourselves, people that don’t actually do the job are often clueless about what actually works and what doesn’t. The egos that help people get to the top are the same egos that have a  problem accepting that folks working for them may actually have a better idea.  

As a front line manager, what often happens when bad ideas are implemented is that you find a work-around.  Since nobody asked your opinion and you know something isn’t going to work, you still have to find a way to be successful.  Think about all the productivity and efficiencies that are lost because no one at the top cared.  So how can you create an environment where front line ideas become the norm instead of the exception?

Mr. Schrooeder’s book goes into great detail, but at a very high level, these are the notes I captured from his keynote:

·      Managers need to be humble. Leaders that can set their egos aside and listen will start creating a culture where ideas start to surface from where the work is actually being done.

·      Develop a system to capture ideas. The speaker was not a big fan of suggestion boxes, except possibly an online box for telecommuters. Instead he felt that there should be regular solicitation of ideas with forums like idea meetings or establishing a highly visible idea board, where everyone is privvy to everyone else's suggestions.

·      Organizations that align themselves for ideas. Not sure he mentioned it, but 3M is a great example of a company that breaks down silos and creates cross-functional teams to better align themselves for innovation.  Think about how much creativity is lost when teams fail to partner effectively.

·      Implement regular training.  If you’re going to be serious about soliciting ideas, you have to make sure everyone understands the process and the culture.  Developing regular training that communicates all the aspects of an idea-driven organization is key to long-term success.

·      Integrate all improvement processes.  Soliciting ideas is great, but if they go nowhere, what’s the point?  Putting your money where your mouth is helps people trust the culture you’re trying to establish.

If you’re serious about implementing an idea-driven organization, I strongly encourage you to read his book. At least try to implement some of these ideas within your own team. Simply start by asking for their input and ideas.