It's one of the most common office supplies with an estimated 50 billion sold every year. Yet few know that 3M's iconic "Post-It Notes" were the brainchild of an employee who noticed a need for a bookmark that stayed in place at church.
It's said that the product took off so quickly; the company could barely keep up with the demand for it.
If that doesn't demonstrate the value of tapping into your teams for innovation and ideas, I'm not sure what will. While we don't hear nearly as much about employee "intrepreneurship" and innovation today as in the past, there is a constant, real value in teams sharing knowledge, information and ideas at your company.
Yet, a large number of entrepreneurs fail to tap into this resource--or kill it all together. Here's how you might be accidentally eradicating your ability to innovate from within:
- Not communicating your goals and priorities clearly. Let your teams know what you envision for your business and what you'd like to accomplish. Getting everyone in sync allows the right ideas to flow.
- Punishing the messenger. When people alert you to things, say thank you, what a great find. If you get angry, dismissive, or accusatory, they'll be less likely to come to you in the future with ideas.
- Not having your ear to the floor. Figure out ways to know what is going on, whether it is having coffee chats throughout your company, informal functions, or formal pathways. If you don't have your ear to the rail, you won't know when a train might be coming.
- Not listening to their ideas--or dismissing their ideas quickly. Its tempting to start with the "no but," or "however/let me explain why that won't work." Resist doing so. Hear them out--fully and entirely--before you respond.
- Adding too much value/taking away their ownership of the idea. Forget for a minute that you own the company, or that you know the market. In fact, pretend as if you have no clue--you never know what you'll learn or find.
- Not letting them fail. We like to say it's okay to skin knees at Simple Mills. That's because you learn so much more by skinning your knees than not. Give people the room to fail so they can learn from their mistakes.
- Getting involved in (too many) details. A sibling of not letting people fail. You're afraid of failing, so you have your hands in everything. At some point you have to trust the people who work with you. By getting involved in the tiny details, you undermine the natural flow.
- Not asking for/providing the resources they need. You can't make the most of employee innovations and ideas if you're not willing to put the resources into researching or developing what they share with you.
- Putting too much emphasis on age, titles, etc. It can be easy to automatically dismiss employees due to older/younger age, lack of experience, titles or that they're not in a related role/department. Equally, understand that while someone may not know how to communicate in "industry speak," his or her ideas can still have value.
- Not encouraging deeper thinking. Encourage teams to think through ideas before they share them. What do they expect it'll take to make the idea work? What kind of time/money or other resources might it need? What are the expected benefits? We encourage our team to lead with a solution and a proposal for next steps.
- Failing to give proper recognition. Different people prefer different forms of recognition. We have team members who hate to be recognized in a group situation and others who love for others to see their outcomes. Learn which type each of your colleagues prefer and be sure to let them know when they've done a good job. It encourages more participation.
Many companies have formal innovation and intrapreneurship programs, lending time, funding and other resources to employee ideas.
Others host innovation events. Open door policies, suggestion boxes. Don't limit it to products--some of the best employee ideas improve processes, customer satisfaction, or bring other indirect benefit.
Whatever you prefer, make room for big ideas no matter how large or small your business is.