Innovation Management: Encourage Employee Innovations by Allan Ung, Operational Excellence Consulting


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Innovation Management: Article on planning and implementing an effective staff suggestion system.

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Innovation Management: Encourage Employee Innovations by Allan Ung, Operational Excellence Consulting

  1. 1. Encourage Employee InnovationsEncourage Employee InnovationsBy Allan Ung “The only way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” ~ Winston ChurchillEmployees have lots of ideas, but how do you listen to them? How do you harvest theirideas formally and informally, and bubble up the good ones? How do you generate goodquality ideas and sustain the flow of employees suggestions to increase customersatisfaction, improve bottom line and enhance employee motivation and enthusiasm?There is much more to setting up an effective staff suggestion system than merely putting upsuggestion boxes and expecting innovative ideas to flow in.Without the necessary supporting infrastructure, it is common sight that suggestion boxesoften end up as trash collectors in the workplace.An effective staff suggestion system improves one’s own work and the working environment,creates ownership and trust, builds teamwork, improves profitability and last but not least,enhances communication between employees and management.What is a Staff Suggestion System?A staff suggestion system is a formalized mechanism which encourages employees tocontribute constructive ideas for improving the organization in which they work.The overall aim is to gather, analyze and implement ideas in order to create results that havea positive impact on the business and/or deliver new value to customers.Create the CultureFor a staff suggestion system to be effective, management needs to create a culture thatencourages employees to think and find better ways to do things, including improvements toproduct and service offerings.There has to be a culture shift from a complaining workforce to a thinking workforce.In 1950, Panasonic launched the staff suggestions system based on one of its shared values- “participative management through collective wisdom”. To-date, the company generates700,000 ideas a year with a 99% implementation rate. 1© 2011 Operational Excellence Consulting. All Rights Reserved.
  2. 2. Encourage Employee InnovationsImplementing a Suggestion SystemHere are some steps that organizations can take to launch a suggestion system in theworkplace: Form a suggestion committee - Get together a small group of people from different functions. Integrate the suggestion system into existing in-company productivity initiatives, e.g. Quality Circles. Involve people - Create interest by involving as many people as possible from the start. Invite employees to suggest names and design logos/mascots for the suggestion system. Promote and publicize - Announce the suggestion system to all employees. Highlight names of those who have contributed to the planning and setting up of the system. Announce the suggestion system in the company newsletter, intranet, and bulletin boards and put up posters to generate publicity. Include the evaluation and awards systems. Hold a convention or conference and invite the CEO make the opening address. Leverage on the occasion by distributing suggestion forms and invite employees to submit at least one suggestion per month.Promote the Suggestion SystemConsider developing monthly themes to focus ideas on important issues that the companywants to address. Examples of themes are customer service, employee involvement, qualityimprovement, cost reduction, etc.Create the atmosphere by using more than a single method to promote suggestions. Forinstance, encourage new hires undergoing on-the-job training to think of better ways of doingthings.Make reference materials such as related books and videos available. Disseminate monthlyperformance metrics on the staff suggestion system so that employees are aware of theirdepartment’s performance.Create categories of awards. Examples include awards for increasing revenue, improvingcustomer satisfaction, reducing costs, etc.Launch an Innovation or Ideas Day. Announce the results achieved and present awards toindividuals, groups and departments for contributing suggestions. You can also sharesuccess stories and invite external speakers to give talks on related topics. 2© 2011 Operational Excellence Consulting. All Rights Reserved.
  3. 3. Encourage Employee InnovationsChallengesAs in deploying any continuous improvement initiative, there are challenges in managing andsustaining a staff suggestion system.Employees might fear reprimand for making suggestions as their supervisors might perceivetheir ideas as indications that the department is “not perfect”.In processes where ideas are routed to the employees’ supervisors for vetting, there couldbe a counter-productive filtering of ideas at department level.Sometimes there could be periods of low participation rates. Possible causes are failure tomaintain constant publicity, heavy workloads, no departmental target setting, breakdowns inthe evaluation and feedback process, unattractive rewards/recognition system, andemployee disillusionment from seeing good ideas that were not implemented.Critical Success FactorsAn effective staff suggestion system requires management commitment to keep it alive.It is important to involve the middle management in the ideas generation process as they area key pillar to sustaining the mechanism.To achieve a high implementation rate, suggestions have to be job-oriented andimplemented in the suggestor’s own department or function.Recognize and reward individuals, groups and departments for participation.Management needs to act on the good suggestions and evaluate suggestions fairly andpromptly so as to demonstrate credibility to the workforce.ConclusionAs Winston Churchill said, “The only way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” Forthis to happen, organizations need to implement a mechanism to capture employee ideasand bubble up the good ones.A healthy suggestion system can bring many tangible and intangible benefits to theorganization and build a culture of innovation. And who knows, when you do it right, yourorganization might well be on its way to becoming the next Apple!About the AuthorAllan Ung is Managing Consultant of Operational Excellence Consulting, a Singapore-based management consultancy firm specializing in the implementation of operationalexcellence methodologies. He has more than 20 years experience in operational excellenceimplementation spanning government, manufacturing and service-based organizations. MrUng holds a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the National University of 3© 2011 Operational Excellence Consulting. All Rights Reserved.
  4. 4. Encourage Employee InnovationsSingapore. He is a Certified Management Consultant (Japan), Lean Six Sigma Black Belt,TPM Instructor (JIPM) and ISO9000 Lead Auditor. To contact Allan, please Operational Excellence ConsultingOperational Excellence Consulting (OEC) is a Singapore-based management training andconsultancy firm that assists organizations in improving business performance andeffectiveness through methodologies such as Lean, Six Sigma and TQM. The firm’s missionis to create business value for organizations through innovative operational excellencemanagement training and consulting solutions. OEC takes a unique “beyond the tools”approach to enable clients develop internal capabilities and cultural transformation toachieve world-class excellence and competitive advantage. For more information, pleasevisit Presentations for Download/SaleIf you are interested to have a copy of the above article’s presentation slides in Powerpointformat, please click on the link below for more information: 4© 2011 Operational Excellence Consulting. All Rights Reserved.