I saw that article on Studs Terkel. Wasn’t it great? It also mentioned a recent study by the Conference Board, which showed that the percentage of workers who were satisfied with their jobs had dropped off 20 percent since 1995, and now stood at 49 percent.
One of the things we saw very clearly in the Ideas Are Free study was that companies that did well at encouraging and using ideas from their front-line workers had much better cultures. That is, there were much higher levels of trust, respect and involvement, and this meant they performed at much higher levels too.
Francois Michelin, founder of Michelin tire company, once made an interesting observation. Whenever he met Michelin retirees, he liked to ask them what they remembered most fondly about working at his company. Almost always the retiree talked of an idea he or she had proposed, and that the company had used. Francois Michelin came to realize that the reason why people remembered their ideas in this context was that these were how his employees felt they had left their mark on the company. Ideas were their chance to make a difference. Michelin was the first company in France to start an idea system, which was getting some 15 ideas per employee per year by 1933, a lot better than most companies do today.
There is a strong link between how well a company promotes employee ideas, and the attitudes of its employees to working there. That’s why we found so many companies telling us that ideas provided a measurable and manageable way to improve their cultures.