INNOVATE

How to Get Your Employees to Give You Their Billion-Dollar Ideas

If people are hoarding their best innovations, you'll need to change your company's culture.
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Is your company innovation-friendly? It's easy to talk about the need to innovate, create new ideas, and build new avenues of revenue, but if your employees aren't submitting ideas, it may mean they are holding on to them.

Idea hoarding is not uncommon, but it can be a symptom of a culture rife with distrust and lack of employee commitment. But incentivizing your employees to bring new ideas using money or other rewards is no panacea, says Ron Ashkenas, managing partner of Stamford, Connecticut-based Schaffer Consulting and the author of Simply Effective: How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done. One of his clients, he writes in the Harvard Business Review, once told him an employee refused to share her innovative idea without the company first signing a non-disclosure agreement.

"Creating financial incentives for innovation does not necessarily prevent these kinds of issues. In fact, focusing too much on 'cash for ideas' may open a Pandora's box of unintended consequences--people innovating for their own benefit instead of the company's, competition arising between individuals or units, employees losing focus on current business, and so on," he writes.

Ashkenas says if your employees are hoarding intellectual solutions, you must overhaul the prevailing mindset of the company.

"What most companies should focus on first is creating an environment, or a culture, that fosters innovation. For example, in the case of the employee wanting an NDA before sharing her idea, the underlying issue may not have been money, but rather commitment and trust," he writes. "For some reason ... she wasn't excited about helping the company improve; she was only innovating because it was good for her. At the same time, she didn't trust her manager or colleagues to explore or implement her idea, because she was afraid that she wouldn't be recognized for her contribution."

Below, read how you can make your company more innovation-friendly and get your employees to contribute those billion-dollar ideas.

Educate the troops.

The first step is to explain how important innovation is to the company's success. "Particularly in companies that have experienced years of efficiency management, innovation can be seen as just another way to reduce costs and get rid of people--which can exacerbate the defensive 'me-first' behavior that is antithetical to real innovation," Ashkenas writes in HBR. "So take time to talk about the importance of finding new solutions for customers, competing with [other] startup competitors, ramping up internal growth, or whatever other rationale makes sense for your company."

Make innovation a goal.

Once everyone realizes how important idea generation is to the company's survival, it's time to make it a formal goal and performance metric. "If you want employees and managers to innovate, then make it clear what that means, how it's measured, and how it needs to be part of their jobs--not something 'extra' to be done in their spare time," Ashkenas says.

Highlight real results.

You need to show your employees a concrete example of what innovation really means at your company. If it's a vague buzzword, it will fall by the wayside. "Find some early examples of innovation, where people did the right things, and either got good results or quickly learned from their failures," Ashkenas writes. "Publicize and communicate these situations, give the people involved recognition, and make it clear that this is the kind of behavior that's needed and wanted."

Great Leaders Know That Good Ideas Aren't Enough

Leaders don't become great through charisma or vision alone. At its core, leadership is about executing on ideas.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Apr 22, 2014

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported in the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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