Every idea that someone in your organization has is valuable. But those ideas will never reach you unless you actively solicit and respond to them. I am not talking about multi million dollar projects. Or even 2 hour process improvements. These are within the scope of project management. But so are the small ideas, the ones that make people’s days a little better, make them a little happier, make them feel like the ratio of rewarding work to tedium goes up a little.
At every company I have worked at, there has been an undercurrent of voices. These are what is heard during breaks, when people stop to talk in a hallway, or when work is a little slow between customers or patients. These conversations tell you a lot about the company and the work environment. And these conversations are worth listening to. I have been at places where these were angry, frustrated, or scared conversations. I have been at places where this was a mix of minor frustrations and discussions of the good things that we’re going on. It is much better to work at one of the second places.
Anyone managing in an environment like this needs to know what those conversations are about. The tricky thing as no one is going to tell a manager directly unless you have a great culture and work environment. So, to get things started, you need to use some other kind of tool. You need something like suggestion boxes, online forums, an e-mail address, or other ways to communicate, ideally with the ability to do it anonymously. It does not really matter what the mechanism is. Because they are all good.
But not great.
To get to great, employees have to know that they’re being listened to and responded to. That means that if they have ideas that are good they need to be enacted enthusiastically immediately. Some of the ideas will not be feasible or realistic. Communication has to made as to why the suggestion is not being implemented, so those employees know they are being taken seriously.
Now the feedback look starts.
Now you start getting to great.
In this scheme of all the things that your department, business, or organization is trying to accomplish, this seems like minor stuff. After all, these kinds of suggestions and little tweaks don’t add anything to your bottom line or improve customer service, do they? I would argue that they do. Again, I will use Google as an example. They asked for employee feedback, got hundreds of ideas and thousands of votes on them. They were little things, mostly easy to implement, and people loved them. (Work Rules!, Lazlo Bock, p 51.) The same thing happened at Alcoa. In Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg write about how Paul O’Neill took over as CEO in 1987 and started focusing on safety. This is not a bottom line investment. The short story is that safety got better and as people learned that he was taking safety suggestions seriously, other suggestions, big and small, were submitted. People were rewarded, profits went up, and the company did fantastic through the 1990’s. If you have a work force that is inspired and involved to make changes and do a better job than you’ll get the most of those people.
So, listen to those voices. They are telling you what you need to hear.