When people ask for my advice on how to improve their innovation programs, one thing I usually suggest is to do away with their organization’s suggestion schemes and tear down the idea boxes. Why? Because it’s too tempting to substitute these methods in place of real innovation that adds customer and organizational value. And they can do more harm than good, in my opinion.
Here are 10 reasons suggestion schemes and idea boxes fail:
- Wrong Motivation. In many cases, suggestion schemes are made for disgruntled employees who need a way to vent. The result is a very narrow set of ideas from only a small percentage of the population.
- Lack of Training. Suggestion schemes assume that employees know how to generate innovative ideas on their own. In most companies, employees are not provided with the proper training (tools and methods) to understand how to generate valuable ideas.
- Incremental Innovation. Without proper training, employees tend to only generate ideas related to their immediate sphere of influence, ad mostly related to process improvement. While these ideas shouldn’t be ignored, they won’t ever lead to breakthrough innovation.
- Irrelevant to Customer Needs. Most suggestion schemes don’t provide a model to understand customer outcomes and expectations (voice of the customer) related to the ideas.
- Irrelevant to Organizational Needs. Idea boxes don’t ensure alignment between the ideas and business strategy. Some ideas submitted are important to the company, some are not.
- Too Many Ideas and Poor Processes. The suggestion box collects ideas. Although some are processed, others are not. Over time, the suggestion box will have more ideas than can be managed by an innovation manager.
- Overwhelmed Managers. Because suggestion boxes are not transparent, many ideas are submitted by several employees at the same time. An unpopular policy or faulty process can lead to a deluge of almost identical ideas, leaving the innovation manager overwhelmed.
- Lack of Transparency. A suggestion box is not transparent. Employees cannot see their ideas once they are in the box and do not know what is happening to their ideas. This is demotivating.
- Lack of Oversight. In many cases, all the suggestions are processed by the same person. This person may not always recognize the potential of a powerful idea, particularly if it is outside of his/her area of expertise.
- Wrong Message. Idea boxes and suggestion schemes send the wrong message to employees. They encourage limited, anonymous ideation in isolation and without any feedback, as opposed to open and collaborative ideation that leads to breakthrough innovation and adds real value.
What’s your experience with these methods for idea generation?
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Kamal Hassan is President and CEO of Innovation 360 Institute, and is responsible for leading the company’s global operations and customer acquisition.