Based on ground-breaking new research on innovation and problem solving, learn techniques to help your team bring you better ideas.
When we share our recent research findings on what prevents employees from speaking up and sharing their best ideas, sometimes we get this reaction: “Oh, that’s not our issue. Our problem is these damn millennials can’t stop speaking up. They complain about everything.”
“And do you listen?” we ask.
“Some of the time, but after a while, you can only take so much.”
Which begs the question: and then what happens? After you’re tired and they’re ignored?
We imagine it’s only a matter of time until they stop trying, or leave. Like Laura, a fellow keynote speaker we met recently at a conference. She shared:
I’m so intrigued by this research you’re doing on FOSU (fear of speaking up) and the downstream consequences for employees and organizations. The truth is I’m one of those people. I had such a bad experience when I was 23, that I would never offer my opinion at work again.
I was just out of college and so eager to make an impact in my new role. I had tons of ideas and was always looking for ways to make things better. So I offered my opinion on EVERYTHING. Which as it turns out, was exhausting to everyone around me. I got fired and was completely devastated. After all, my heart was in the right place. I was gung ho. But, the truth is, I was committed, but clumsy.
Once I got back on my feet in a new job, I kept my head down, my mouth shut, and just did my job. I had this FOSU thing you talk about in a big way. And I was miserable.
It’s why I eventually had to go start my own business. I knew I would never speak up to an employer again.
Please feel free to share my story.
I hope it can help leaders understand the long-term damage they can do to emerging leaders who may have good ideas, but just haven’t learned the skills to position them well. Also leaders need to understand how easy it is to lose high-potential talent when you scare them into suppressing their best thinking instead of teaching them the skills they need to get their point across.
How To Help Employees Vet Their Ideas
Our research found that 40% of respondents lacked the confidence to share their ideas. Some had scar tissue, like Laura, from a time they shared ideas and it didn’t’ go well because they didn’t know how.
If you’re not getting the ideas you want, help your employees know what differentiates a good idea by giving them a few criteria.
What Does Success Look Like?
The most important information you can give your team is: What will a successful idea do?
Improve customer retention by 5% across the board?
By 10% of the top 25% of customers?
Break even in the first year? Second year?
How much can we invest?
Will it solve a specific problem (eg: Our number one customer complaint is time-to-resolution. We need ideas to solve that by reducing the number of problems on the front end or to fix them faster.)
When you ask for ideas, don’t stop with a generic “We need ideas to keep our customers.”
You’ll get generic ideas.
The secret is specifically to ask for what you need: “Over the next month I’d like to get your ideas on how we can stop these three problems from happening … and how we can streamline our response times and take care of our customers faster.”
Or you might say, “We’re looking for ideas that will improve customer retention by 10% or more and will recoup their cost within 12 months–although six is better.”
Use Success Criteria to Get Innovative Ideas
There are several benefits when you define your success criteria.
Giving people clarity helps focus their thinking and make it easier for them to produce the innovative ideas you need.
The next benefit is that you filter out many of the trivial, misguided, or ill-conceived ideas. Often, when someone hasn’t thought through their idea, it’s because the person didn’t have all the information they needed.
Finally, thinking through your success criteria makes it easier to evaluate and choose the ideas you will implement.
The I.D.E.A. Framework
One way to help your team vet their ideas is to teach them our I.D.E.A. framework encouraging them to look for interesting, doable, engaging actions.
Why is this idea interesting? What strategic problem does it solve? How will results improve from this idea (e.g. customer experience, employee retention, efficiency)?
Is this idea something we could actually do? How would we make it happen? What would make it easier or more difficult?
Who would we need to engage to make this happen? Why should they support it? Where are we most likely to meet resistance?
What are the most important actions needed to try this? How would we start?
If you’re not getting the ideas you need, take a moment to give your employees some perspective and tools to encourage and challenge them. A little structure goes a long way in turning your employees into strategic problem solvers.
Karin Hurt and David Dye are the founders of Let’s Grow Leaders, an International Leadership Training Company and the authors of Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
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