Nine steps to foster staff innovation

Nine steps to foster staff innovation

Getting the best out of your staff's innovative ideas


Google has done well mining its own staff for innovations to keep it looking fresh in the ever-changing online realm by encouraging its employees to present new ideas to key decision makers. If it can work for a company with 20,000 employees, could it work for your organisation? You don’t know until you give it a go, and here are some ways to do just that.

1. A place for thought: Provide a forum for staff input, where ideas can come forth and run wild. Depending on the size of your company this could take the form of informal gatherings or an intranet bulletin board.

2. Start at the beginning: When announcing to staff that you are willing to listen to any new ideas they may be harbouring, it might pay to start at the very beginning and tell them what it is the company does. “This is what we do, this is our slice of the market, these are our strengths, our competitors’ strengths are these.” Effectively you are saying, “We are in a team and our goal is this.”

3. Some case studies: Show staff where innovation has taken the company in the past, and identify where these big ideas came from.

4. Knowledge on tap: Release key findings of any useful research that could free up ideas within the minds of your staff. Your customers could be a defined demographic, very different from your staff. The more they know about them, the better.

5. Fear not: One mighty obstacle to new ideas is fear. A brilliant observation or suggestion could be brewing inside a timid mind, so asking for ideas from the floor could feel like standing in front of a class of scared children. Do what you can to eliminate fear. There are no wrong ideas. Only ideas.

6. What’s the incentive? Make sure that good initiatives or innovations are recognised and rewarded. That will show the team that you take them seriously. And if that idea’s success is reflected in the company’s bottom line, be sure to spread the word. Remember to be on the lookout for people who are clearly languishing in the wrong role. You could be sitting on some unrealised talent.

7. The right panel: Don’t expect fluid technical eloquence when these fresh ideas come forward from unexpected faces. Make sure your panel of listeners includes someone who can interpret ideas in the sophisticated terms of manufacturing, management and/or marketing.

8. Feedback: If you hear ideas that aren’t any good, explain what’s wrong with them. Negative feedback will only sharpen the focus on what the company is trying to achieve, and any feedback is better than silence.

9. Set the ball in motion: Most importantly, remember these fine people are already doing the jobs they’re paid for. If they don’t have any ideas, that’s fine. But at least you’ve had a go at lighting the touchpaper, and it’s likely submissions will increase as the program continues.

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