How to Get Creative Ideas Out of Your Employees If you want your business to become a leader in providing creative and innovative solutions, you'll need ways to gather creative and innovative ideas. One of the best sources of new ideas for any business is their employees. After all, your employees know your business the best and know the people, customers, equipment and current processes. They may have some great ideas to streamline processes to make things more efficient or may have ideas about other products your customers want. One thing many managers struggle with is how to encourage their employees to put forward their ideas. There are several tools you can use to help you gather ideas such as suggestion boxes (or modern day equivalents using computer programs), competitions for the best creative solution to a current problem the business is facing, and creating 'innovation teams or committees'. Suggestion Boxes While the 'suggestion box' where employees would 'post' slips of paper with their ideas is somewhat outdated, several companies are now offering computer programs that provide 'idea management' and provide easy to use tools for your employees to submit their ideas. The main problem with the suggestion box is that the ideas may be gathered but the employees receive no response to their ideas. It can be impersonal, not allowing the person to express their ideas verbally or to explain any parts of the ideas that need clarification. If the employee doesn't present their idea well in this impersonal format, it may well be ignored, even if it was a great idea in the first place. Also, the suggestion box often became the method of complaining about situations, rather than coming up with creative solutions to solve the problems. If you use a suggestion box, in any way or format, you need to ensure that employees receive responses and rewards for submitting ideas, and that you have some method of getting clarification on their ideas before they are rejected. People are less likely to submit their ideas if they think it will just go into the 'void' of 'computer space'. Competitions Many companies have decided that holding competitions among employees for providing ideas to solve particular issues or problems works well. The competition must have a prize or reward that the employees want. Recognition for their ideas, plus some monetary or prize reward will often encourage employees to submit their ideas. You are more likely to gather ideas that will work to solve your particular issue but may not receive 'brainwave ideas' about other issues. I've seen the competition style work very well in the short-term but over a longer period, employees start losing their enthusiasm, especially once all the 'easy' solutions have already been submitted. Competitions are limited then to specific issues or even themes (like how can we make our business safer during a 'safety week' promotion) and for a short term. They might help to gather ideas but again, unless you have a tools to evaluate and decide which ideas to follow up on, you may end up losing the ideas. If employees enter a competition and provide their ideas for one issue, and then see no new innovation or solution to the issue being implemented, they are not very likely to put forward ideas for the next competition. Innovation Teams or Committees Some companies have tried to put together teams or committees to help them both gather and evaluate creative ideas. The committee may have one or two representatives from each department for example and meet once a month to discuss ideas they have gathered in the meantime. This is one way that reduces the employee feeling like they are 'talking into the great void' because it provides people they can go and have a chat to about their ideas. This process also shares the ideas around a number of people and what may not exactly work in one department, may be a great idea that can be adapted for use by another department. These types of committees can work well, providing the meetings have clear agendas and are attended by people in roles that have the authority to make decisions to implement the ideas. If you only have members who don't have any authority and can make those decisions, your employees will again face the frustration of putting forward their ideas but having nothing happen and no actions taking place. You need to choose the committee members or innovation team members well, to ensure the meeting do not end up being a 'talk fest' where nothing is really achieved. Whatever tool you use to gather and evaluate ideas and creative solutions, you will need to ensure employees see some results, otherwise they will stop putting forward their ideas. Even if their idea is not accepted for implementation, employees should be recognised and encouraged for putting forward their ideas in the first place. Remember that actions speak louder than words and seeing a good idea being implemented will certainly encourage all your employees to put forward their other ideas. Jan Delmas is the founder of Simple Synergy. Simple Synergy is dedicated to helping businesses unlock creativity in the workplace. Visit us at http://www.simplesynergy.com.au to find out how our 'how to' guides and ebooks can help your business grow and thrive using creativity and innovation. 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