Getting the Best Ideas From Employees

By Robert Half

Innovation is key to keeping your business competitive, but bright ideas are often hard to come by, as managers well know.


According to financial executives interviewed for a recent Robert Half survey, the three biggest organizational roadblocks to innovation, in order, are:

  • A lack of new ideas
  • Excessive bureaucracy
  • Being bogged down with daily tasks or putting out fires

Although the best source of business improvement ideas is usually right in front of companies in the form of their employees, managers often struggle to inspire innovation among work teams. Here are some suggestions for bringing great ideas to the surface:

Cultivate an idea-friendly culture. When staff members – from all levels – are active participants in solving the company’s challenges, they tend to be more innovative because they have a bigger emotional stake in the firm’s success. Companies have found that employees are motivated to contribute ideas not necessarily to earn personal recognition, but out of a genuine desire to improve the business in some way.


Shake things up. Let employees step outside their comfort zone and daily routines. Consider allowing them to swap positions on a short-term basis with colleagues in different roles or locations.


Another variation on job swapping is to have different departments, work teams or individual employees rotate and focus on business challenges that are new to them. By stepping into the shoes of other colleagues or teams, staff members can observe the organization from another perspective – and this can potentially lead to breakthrough ideas.


Pave the way for creativity. Create a climate of acceptance so that individuals don’t fear being publicly criticized or ridiculed for their suggestions.  Ask your team to withhold criticizing others’ ideas, at least until a later stage of consideration. Instead, have them build upon others’ ideas or offer an entirely new suggestion.


Give ’em a break. Burnout does not beget brilliance. When employees are consistently overworked, they’re likely to have more “uh-oh” than “a-ha!” moments. Make sure you’re doing your part as a manager to promote work-life balance, and consider bringing in temporary professionals during peak activity periods to keep your team fresh and focused.


Set an example. You’ll have difficulty sparking creativity in others if you’re feeling uninspired yourself. Take steps to keep your creative fires burning, whether it’s getting away from your desk for a mind-clearing walk or reading a thought-provoking book. Also, be sure that internal policies and processes are not generating any unnecessary red tape that might stifle employee innovation.

Don’t forget to keep ideas flowing by responding appropriately to staff who offer suggestions. Always thank them for their input and let them know their ideas are valued, even if a proposal cannot be implemented.

Also, continue to communicate the expectation that you want team members to view themselves as idea generators, not just accountants or whatever their functional role may be. To underscore this expectation, you may even want to make it part of the job description and a point for evaluation during performance reviews.

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