Business innovations do not always emerge using complex technologies. Surprisingly enough, even the most sophisticated companies still use an old-fashioned suggestion box to generate new innovations and ideas.
The suggestion box does not always have to be a physical container. For example, Amazon uses a virtual suggestion box on its internal website to give employees an easily accessible place to submit ideas big and small. It was into this virtual box where an engineer named Charlie Ward suggested one of the company’s greatest innovations, the free shipping that eventually formed the basis of Amazon Prime.
Another notable company that thrives off ideas from employees is the Clarion-Stockholm hotel. Employees at Clarion come up with at least 50 new ideas per year. The company’s formula is simple: it encourages employees to look at problems and reframe them as suggestions. Other companies, such as Ideo, create idea-generating organizations by using creative spaces to capture new ideas and encouraging employees to provide creative “out of the box” suggestions to leadership on how to change internal processes as well as provide creative services to employees.
Of course, a suggestion box alone is not enough. In order for a suggestion box to work, you need to build a culture to support it. Here’s how:
First, foster a learning culture
A learning culture is a set of organizational values, conventions, processes and practices that encourage individuals to build knowledge, competence and performance. Creating a culture where people are engaged and motivated is critical to encouraging and supporting innovation within the organization.
Modify your communications
Ensure you make it clear that you welcome any and all suggestions. Corporate communications can sometimes be boring, so instead start ‘organizational conversations’ that you think of as dialogues rather than monologues. The idea is to make the conversation more effective by developing relationships with your team, and then following up with the communique.
Launch a reward system
Establish a reward system that reinforces organizational learning culture. Rewards can include money, vacations, trophies, and other items that support the ideation of new innovations. Surprisingly, studies show that employees are often not interested in monetary rewards for their ideas. They contribute because they want to help the organization and feel as though they are doing something valuable. So, when innovations get implemented, be sure to publicly praise the employee who had the idea. All organizations that encourage innovation and new ideas also create rewards.
Create a suggestion box
Once you ensure the supporting mechanisms are in place, build a suggestion box using a platform best suited to inspire new ideas within your organization. Ensure that as part of your system, you include an acknowledgement by thanking employees for their suggestions.
Institute a review system
Ensure you have an efficient review system set up to evaluate the ideas and provide meaningful feedback. All of the organizations mentioned who support innovations have a way to rate them in order to filter the more meaningful ideas to the top.
A study from Accenture found that 72% of companies allow innovations to wither and die because there is no formalized process to review and evaluate suggested ideas. Ensure you assign a task force of employees as well as leaders to ensure that you review all ideas in an efficient manner.
These steps provide a recipe for companies to follow that will help planned innovation become more ingrained into their organizational DNA.
Dr. Gail Ferreira leads the knowledge management and IP practices for the Boston Consulting Group’s “Agile at Scale” division.