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Turn Your Team into an Idea Generation Machine

Idea Generation

By Sandra Wiley

According to Franklin Covey’s 4 Disciplines of Execution, Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) are ones that simply must be accomplished or nothing else really matters (e.g., “If we don’t do X, we will fail.”) These are the goals that help your firm climb to the next level of success.

The key to WIGs that lead to an environment that is better, faster, cheaper and easier is for firm leaders to get out of the way and allow their teams to identify and implement these initiatives. However, for years, I’ve heard firm leaders vent their frustration in this endeavor by saying, “I ask my team to share their ideas, but I get no response! I have to do it myself.” That tells me that their heart is in the right place, but it’s likely that their process is broken.

So let’s concentrate on how to get your team to share their ideas for making the firm better, faster, cheaper and easier. The goal is for your team to get comfortable suggesting new and innovative ideas without the fear of being laughed at or ignored.

Set the proper tone

Setting the proper tone means creating an environment that encourages open discussion about new ways of implementing current and future initiatives. As with any aspect of firm culture, this tone starts at the top. Are your leaders excited to communicate with their team and engage in open and honest feedback about what is working or not working? Are employees at all levels asked for their opinions when determining an action plan for the strategic plan or are only owners and managers given time on the agenda?

Think deeply about what your leadership tone is saying about your openness to new ideas, as this is the most common deterrent to receiving exceptional ideas from your team. Your new mantra should be, “New and different ideas are welcome and expected from everyone in the firm.

If you aren’t sure what your tone is, ask your employees. Initiate an upward feedback survey and ask questions around communication, openness, trust and leadership. You may find that the tone as perceived by your team is quite different from the one intended by firm leadership. Perception is reality.

Communication is paramount

When you saw the word communication, did your eyes roll while you thought, “Good grief! We have meetings upon meetings and conversation every day! Communication is not the problem.” This may be true, but those meetings typically involve talking about current daily initiatives, not new ideas that will take you to the next level.

Many firms leaders mistakenly believe that placing a suggestion box in the break room and then telling their team to fill out comment cards will bring on a rush of new ideas flowing through the system. Most firms get more cobwebs out of a suggestion box than actual suggestions. The process that you set up and the actual excitement in the message needs to happen

  • when you announce the initiative,
  • when ideas are flowing and
  • when ideas are implemented.

Communication is not just about great ideas – it is about the number of ideas produced. Good ideas lead to spectacular ideas, so the more ideas you have flowing, the better the ideas get.

Reward and recognize the individual

When you see the word reward, the implication is “cash.” It’s certainly true that money is a motivator, but it’s not the only motivator. As you build out the firm’s ideation processes, remember that reward and recognition are essential to overall adoption and motivation. So consider a tiered approach:

  • Employees who submit ideas receive recognition at a staff meeting or on the firm’s internal message board.
  • When an idea is chosen for consideration, the employee receives a cash award or gift certificate.
  • Once the idea is implemented, the employee receives an extra day of paid time off or a larger cash bonus.

It’s crucial to create a program that generates excitement and fun and ultimately leads to tremendous ideas that will improve the firm. If you encourage your team to be a part of the ongoing growth and development of the firm through idea generation, you’ll be pleased with the results.

Your team might not come up with out of this world ideas in the first few months, but the more ideas that you generate, the more likely you will be to find one or two that are truly revolutionary!

Sandra Wiley is President of Boomer Consulting, Inc.