One of the great beliefs we have as managers is that our job is to listen to our employees’ ideas and then go implement those that we find valuable. Sounds like a great idea. But as managers we know the reality is that a good many employee ideas just don’t make business sense.
My last week’s post was titled Engaging Employees: The Economics of Micro Ingenuity. In that post, I referred to research that shows for every employee that crosses over from being disengaged (meaning they do only what they are told to do) to engaged (meaning they make decisions and implement improvements without being asked), you can expect to add an incremental $13,000 to the bottom line each and every year. That’s $13,000 per year per employee. Just do the math.
So if employee ideas often don’t make business sense, how is it possible that when employees implement their own ideas they somehow magically bring great results?
In traditional low-engagement organizations there are five reasons employee ideas are only half-baked if they were baked at all:
- The idea solves a problem that is not really a problem
- The idea addresses a problem in some other department, addressing work they do not understand
- The solution has negative impacts the employee has not considered or intended
- The cost of the solution exceeds its benefits
- The solution addresses a problem’s symptom not its root cause
In organizations where employee engagement is high, as I explain in Business at the Speed of Now, it is high because management has worked hard to ensure employees know where the organization is going, they understand their specific accountabilities, and they know how to effectively use facts to solve problems.
Then, when employees know they are expected to implement their own ideas they actually come up with ideas that focus on the things they can control. They also focus on improvements in the areas where they have a lot of knowledge, experience and insight.
As a manager if you routinely experience employees coming to you with half-baked ideas, you might want to look in the mirror and ask yourself why the ideas are not focused on the work the employee controls.
When employee ideas focus on the routine work they do and know well, and they have data-driven problem solving skills, the ideas almost always make good sense.
What’s been the most half-baked suggestion an employee has ever made to you?