Every business once started out as an idea in someone’s mind. While that initial idea is the source of the business, it is the continual stream of ideas that keep a business vibrant and give it a sustainable competitive advantage, which is even more important in today’s environment than ever.
However, too often you hear people say “I don’t know what else we could do to improve this business” or “We have tried a lot of things, and we’ve found that what we do know is the only way for this business to operate properly.”
The main reason for this situation is not for a true lack of ideas but the fact that new ideas are most likely to be rejected that are considered. This is due to our thinking system, which is nurtured from birth, to prove the truth of existing ideas rather than change them.
To the extent that a new idea means we have to change our thinking, our natural inclination is to reject it because change is hard, possibly risky and implies that what we’ve been doing is wrong. There are many idea-destroying tactics that have been developed, including some of these common ones:
- Point out the main reasons a new idea won’t work rather than looking at the benefits of the idea first.
- Tell the proponent that they do not understand the broader issues of the business.
- Say that you have already tried it before, and it didn’t work, even if it was the execution that caused the idea to fail initially.
- Say that something has been done the same way for 50 years, and there is no reason to change it.
There are many more idea-destroying tactics that get deployed in businesses on a daily basis, but in order for a business to overcome these and give an opportunity to benefit from a continual stream of ideas, the business leaders need to develop a culture within the organization that challenges the status quo and continually seeks to improve processes.
It is important to remember that the ideas do not need to be big to make an impact on the business. In fact, there are very few big things that a business can do to make it more successful, but there are most likely many little things that could be improved. Yet small ideas are often overlooked precisely because they are small ideas and do not warrant doing anything about.
There is an opportunity for improvement in virtually every business process, but in most businesses there are several problems that prevent improvement:
People who are close to the improvement opportunity have no channel to communicate their suggestions, they don’t know how to make a suggestion, suggestions are killed early and there is no formal system for getting ideas into action.
To overcome these problems and create an environment that welcomes and makes the most of teams suggestions, businesses can incorporate some of the following ideas:
- Communicate to the organization that innovation is a priority.
- Challenge everyone in your organization to look for improvement in everything they do and talk about this at every opportunity.
- Eliminate the idea-destroying behavior and replace “can’t do” language with “can do, will do, help-me-do”.
- Create formalized opportunities for ideas to be heard. This could be accomplished through planned meetings between departments and/or creating a suggestion box for everyone to access.
- Praise and reward all ideas, not just good ones. Such as verbal recognition in team meetings, movie vouchers, team lunches, etc.
- Have senior team members’ work alongside their team and cross department teams to get a different perspective on processes.
- When evaluating ideas, force the person who does not like the idea to spend five minutes discussing the benefits of the idea and the person’s idea it is to spend five minutes discussing the negative aspects of the idea.
- Create a cross functional idea group that meet on a regular basis to discuss new ideas or issues that there areas are having.
- Ensure employee performance review feedback to incorporate a section for discussing ideas, especially at the management level.
- IMPLEMENT, IMPLEMENT, IMPLEMENT. Failure to perform this step will negate any efforts done above and kill innovation and team motivation. Therefore, there needs to be a formal process to convert an idea into an action.
Creating an environment that welcomes and listens to the ideas of the entire organization is not designed to create an atmosphere of unconditional empowerment. Ultimately the CEO and senior management need to make all the critical business decisions and clearly defined processes, responses and systems for approving, and implementing ideas will allow the team to feel empowered but know who is in control.
Austin is a manager at BiggsKofford, specializing in Mergers, Acquisitions and business consulting and a Principa Alliance member.