Company cultures, innovation, entrepreneurial thinking–over the last few years, there is no doubt that these have been the latest buzzwords for HR and business leaders looking to define themselves in the corporate landscape.
With job-hopping the new norm, (according to the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey, the average American worker stays in their job for 4.4 years while 91% of millennials plan to stay for less than three years), it begs the question: How can companies actually deliver on the promise and engage employees for the long term?
As most companies grow from the small startup phase, they inherently begin to lean on a smaller group of leaders to drive the company in the same direction. But that can quickly become a trap, limiting the development of creativity and the business to senior-level executives. Meanwhile, employees are left without a way to contribute, and become unmotivated and disengaged.
So, what’s the answer? It’s actually quite simple: Ask them. Listen to them. Then, respond.
All team members have a different insight into your company, so use this to your full advantage. While you may spend hours and resources looking for a fresh perspective in research by conducting surveys, talking to customers, or analyzing data, there are probably already team members doing this as part of their everyday job. And with that comes invaluable information that you may not otherwise discover. Without knowing it, your employees may already be past the first stage of developing your next innovative idea.
It’s not enough to simply ask employees for ideas. They have to be heard and guided in the right direction. While many companies have an internal suggestion portal inviting their employees to bring innovative ideas to the table, the implementation of these ideas is restricted to specific teams and higher-level managers to execute. The momentum behind the idea is often lost, and the chance of a successful and complete execution becomes slim. An employee may have a game-changing idea, but no expertise to develop it. Your senior management team, board executives, and CEO do. Connect them.
Last year, we started our “Innovation Lab,” a company-wide challenge to develop the next best business solution or product for Coastal.com. Employees were challenged to develop an idea with their team and given full support by senior management to develop a case study and business plan to pitch to senior-level executives. Over the course of one full day, almost 100 ideas were developed and presented to our panel of senior executives, where they received feedback and, in some cases, company buy-in.
Encouraging employee contribution requires a commitment from the company as a whole to follow through with their promise to take suggestions and feedback and find avenues to apply those ideas. By providing the support to allow team members to execute their idea, which can include introducing team members to interdepartmental contacts, collaboration on projects, or simply genuine feedback, you can reinforce your program, leading to the continuation of the creative and entrepreneurial spark in the workplace.
The ideas our staff came up were beneficial to our customers and to our business because they were able to create new revenue streams while improving everyday processes for each of their departments. Executives were brought in for one full day of pitching. Teams presented their idea, business plans, and projected opportunities to the group and received immediate feedback. Then our executives reviewed all the suggestions and selected the best ideas to move forward with. Those not selected received feedback on what was missing and how to make it better.
In 2015, two employee-driven programs have already been implemented, including a new product line being introduced this June.
While sharing ideas and feedback is normal practice for Human Resources, empowering and supporting employees to execute their ideas can be an effective engagement tool. It’s easy to ask your employees for ideas, but it’s up to leaders to make sure employees know their ideas are not only wanted, but also appreciated and considered. Show employees their ideas are being heard and then challenge them to do more.
Employees are by far a company’s biggest asset. Once you’ve surrounded yourself with talent, give them the support to help them succeed and they’ll intertwine the long-term success of the company with the progress of their own career.
—Lawrence Scotland is an experienced digital marketing strategist and creative thinker with a track record of leading innovative marketing solutions to business challenges from both client and agency sides. Scotland is currently at Coastal.com as the director of Integrated Marketing and previously spent a decade in the digital agency world, working with the likes of Nike, Jordan, Starbucks, Electronic Arts, and Microsoft.