Make participation mandatory The unlikeliest of employees may make valuable contributions. Remind reluctant staff members that everyone has a stake in the company's success.
Pick a slow time of year Hold the contest during your company's off-season -- preferably on-site -- to cut down on lost productivity.
Assemble small, diverse teams Putting together employees from different departments promotes a variety of ideas and perspectives.
Keep it loose Establish some guidelines to keep contestants on track, but keep the rules short and simple to avoid stifling creativity.
Give specific feedback Explain why each idea works or does not work, while emphasizing the positive attributes of each one.
Reward the best ideas Let contestants vote for their favorite submissions, and give winners a small prize -- and lots of recognition. Be sure to establish a system for vetting ideas thoroughly after the contest.
The Goods is focused exclusively on products and services for business owners. We won't ignore the latest netbook or the hottest smartphone, but we'll also examine the services, software, and Web-based tools that can help make your business succeed. NADINE HEINTZ, a senior editor at Inc., edits The Goods, as well as Quick Hits. Send suggestions, comments, and deals to email@example.com.