11 Unexpected Facts about Managing Employee Idea Programs

Did you know that the average employee suggestion box has less than 10% adoption?

From analysing over 20 research papers on suggestion systems (read more about our research in the Employee Suggestion Box: 10 Factors that Separate Failures from High Performers ), we’ve uncovered 11 unexpected facts about managing employee idea programs.

  1. Ideating gets better with practice. Every time an employee submits an idea that is selected for implementation, future ideas from that employee are more likely to get implemented. This effect is compounded in a team setting. Research has shown that by the time a team has had 4 successful ideas implemented, the likelihood that future ideas would be selected for implementation rose to 80%.

  2. Employees are more likely to learn from successful ideas but not unsuccessful ones. In other words, employees do not learn from rejected ideas. From a practical standpoint, it is important to show employees what a successful idea looks like by selecting desired types of ideas for implementation.

  3. Eighty percent of an organization’s performance improvement potential lies in front-line ideas. In the debate between focussing on radical or incremental innovation, the greatest business opportunity lies with ideas related to incremental innovation. In fact, focussing on incremental innovation provides a more sustainable competitive advantage for organizations.

  4. Ease of submission directly impacts the number of ideas received from employees. For example, online suggestion systems receive more ideas than paper or form-based systems because there are fewer physical barriers to submitting the idea. Also, gating or asking for too much information up front can reduce the number of ideas submitted.

  5. Lack of timely feedback is the number 1 reason why employee idea programs fail. Every article and research piece (yes all 21 of them) sited timely feedback as a major block to the success of an employee suggestion box.

  6. Declined ideas will be taken constructively when an explanation of why the ideas were declined is provided. Simply put, rejected ideas that have an official explanation do not impact the likelihood that someone will not submit ideas going forward.the quantity or quality of ideas. Feedback is seen as a positive even if the idea is rejected.  In one study, submitters only became disengaged after over 20 rejected ideas because feedback was provided and they knew their  ideas were being evaluated.

  7. Having monetary rewards does not increase the quantity or quality of ideas. While different companies can have different types of reward programs (we dive deeper into examples in the Employee Suggestion Box guide), financial compensation can actually create a negative environment of competitiveness as opposed to promoting healthy debate.

  8. Central review groups is the biggest bottleneck to the velocity of ideas. Let’s do a little bit of math. Let’s say you have an above average employee suggestion box with 10% adoption and 5 ideas per employee per year. In an organization with 2000 people that’s still 1000 ideas for a committee to review. If the review committee got together twice a month, that’s still over 40 ideas to fully evaluate in each meeting. There’s no central review team that can process that many ideas effectively even though it’s a technique frequently used to manage idea systems.

  9. While small organizations with up to 50 people can often walk over to the person they need to share ideas with, larger organizations with siloed departments, functional areas and geographic locations struggle to share ideas effectively and get them into the hands of the best people to evaluate and implement. Large complex organizations will require the right technology to provide timely feedback and take action on ideas.

  10. Setting good goals is an effective way to get valuable ideas. By aligning priorities you’ll be able to evaluate and implement ideas more effectively (Read More in the Employee Idea Management Program – Goal Setting Guide) .

  11. Idea Management Programs do not become successful overnight. For an idea management program to reach a point where evaluation and implementation becomes a smooth process could take up to three years. Use a maturity matrix to help estimate the time it takes for a suggestion box to be effective (we share the the one we use with our clients here)

So how do you create a high performance employee idea management program?

We researched 21 academic papers, added in our own insights and experiences from working with our clients to find out that it comes down to 10 factors that separate suggestion box failures from high performance ideation systems.

Read more in the Employee Suggestion Box: 10 Factors that Separate Failures from High Performers.

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innovation excellenceJacqueline Zhou is the innovation expert at SoapBox Innovations, a SaaS innovation management company. An avid believer in tapping into the collective genius of communities, she shares her innovation insights on the SoapBox Innovations blog and @SoapBoxHQ

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