by Alberto Losada Gamst
(translated from the original "Claves para el éxito de los sistemas de gestión de ideas" posted in Microsoft´s Newsletter)
The most competitive company is the one that wins the race. And out of the many ways to achieve this, there is an incredibly overlooked resource: the capability of employees to design and develop new proposals. To take advantage of this, we need to know how to manage ideas and talent.
In the early twentieth century, factories started to get organized following some tough and systematic techniques. Taylor's doctrines were the leading method of reducing costs and “scientifically” increase productivity, by accurately determining the different sequences of moves considered optimal for industrial production. Operators were merely an extension of the machines and tools. An elite group of specialists and supervisors were in charge of the work patterns improvement, and monitoring its strict compliance. The rest of the workers could well turn off their mind and focus exclusively on their work.
Today, the economy has changed. There are indeed some geographical areas and certain business activities where the only focus is pure production, as cheaply as possible. This operation does generate wealth in those countries that have specialized in this part of the economic cycle. But what really has future and makes the difference is to focus on those activities that bring more value. There is a transition from labor to human resources management, and at present we are in the stage of the talent and capability management.
Tom Peters´s proposals from the early 70s, regarding the importance of management excellence, launched the review of many ancient sacred principles in business management. Companies started reconsidering about their customers, the service quality and the ability to deal with the new challenges posed by an increasingly global economy. It is time to think different.
For instance, Japan´s image changed from a manufacturer of cheap copies in the 60s to a leading technology developer in the 80s. Knowledge has today more importance than sheer production. IKEA creates the design of its products and the general business idea, while others are in charge of materializing these items as cheaply as possible ... with the Swedish brand. The question is not working more but better, about differentiating from competitors, and making the customer able to tell the difference.
In the developed world, the information is available to everyone. The irruption of the Internet as a knowledge transfer tool changed many habits, convincing many companies about its benefits and forcing the less flexible ones to join the user group to keep up. Today we all check in the Internet about people or businesses before actually meeting them. The unavailability of information about the searched subject is already a reason for not trusting - are they hiding something? -.
At the same time, the benefits of asking people about their opinion are becoming more visible. Companies started installing suggestion boxes, sometimes to see if any good ideas pop up but more often for image and motivation reasons. Customers will also get a chance: every modern company should have a relationship with them, and certainly has to listen to them or pretend to do so. In sociological terms, there is an explosion of those timid and short but veterans "Letters to the Editor" in the newspapers and on the radio equivalents of past times. Now there are literally thousands of places where a person can leave his/her opinion throughout the day. Moreover, these places are constantly encouraging to express what one thinks. "Comment through your Facebook profile", "leave your message", "send us your feedback to our email", "fill out our satisfaction survey" and similar exhortations are being heard constantly. Life is 2.0, interactive and connected, saturated with data and slogans. It's a new way of thinking.
Ideas, ideas, ideas. What to do with them? They are many. Almost all business owners and managers today understand that a good management of this potential flood of proposals can be a tool to be more competitive. In a way, it's a way to outsource R & D. Just ask: there are plenty of people willing to answer, and for free. Quite often we all hear about ideas competitions for the most assorted activities. From names and logos to new services. In addition to providing useful information and material to the company, these idea competitions are an effective type of advertising that reaches the customer by involving him and not blatantly selling. We have moved from a shortage of ideas to a drowning excess that blocks their implementation. There is saturation of knowledge.
So now companies realize the need of collecting proposals but in an orderly fashion. Answer-check questionnaires prevail over the old “fill in the blank” forms, speeding the process by standardizing the way of getting the information. This means, among other things, that software-based idea management systems are putting aside the classic suggestion box -born over a century ago, where people were invited to leave their written comments.
Right. The decision about implementing a system effectively manage the ideas from employees and collaborators has been finally taken. What to do to make it work? Let´s see some keys for the success of an idea management and collaborative intelligence system:
- Have a clear goal: we must know why are we doing this, and to achieve what. What goals do we have, and in what time frame. It is a way to make its use and promotion easier, as it saves to the potential participants the feeling of uncertainty and lack of seriousness and sincerity.
- Pick the right people to put the system in place: not everybody suits, and no one should be forced to join. Taking an active role in the implementation and running of such systems must be seen as an opportunity to enhance one´s experience and visibility within the company, and not as a punishment or something to avoid. Without a good team, the initiative will fail or get diluted in the daily work (what happens to be the same thing).
- Properly explain what is going to happen: there should be no doubt about the purposes. Increasingly, the employee looks with distrust each Management´s new initiative. It should be clear that the project is in place for the general improvement of the company, and never at the cost of human resources but thanks to them. Everyone must understand why they are given the opportunity to contribute with their proposals instead of complaining.
- Encourage everyone to participate: it is necessary to communicate and sell the benefits of active participation. With some imagination and clarity -and humor, in order to promote the presentation of viable ideas. It happens like in political elections: the goal is to convince the undecided, as the rest of employees are in advance with the project or against it.
- Encourage collaboration between departments. No matter what managers and owners say, a common issue to most companies is the lack of communication between departments. They do not rely on each other by distrust or ignorance, and this lack of relationship is a drag on the agility and speed of operation. There will be many proposals involving the action of people from different areas, and they should be dealt with special care to fructify.
- Quickly select a good proposal and implement it: it's a crucial part of the vital internal marketing campaign. This makes evident that serious proposals are taken seriously. Nothing beats the example and facts when preaching. In the same way that some marketing companies put a billboard advertising or advertising element in front of the recently signed customer's home or office just to impress, you also have to motivate the team to see reality and not just words and vagueness.
- Finally, do publicly reward those who develop the successful proposals. It is not only to thank for the ideas –this, always-, but to extraordinarily reward the extraordinary effort that has led them to set up the proposal. A well-crafted and documented proposal, with a realistic development plan and feasible objectives, takes a lot of time and dedication. Remember that nobody works for nothing, and as employment for life is in danger of extinction and job insecurity is a growing reality, other factors predominate now to identify and retain talent.
The list could be longer. Of course there is the need of the basics in any activity: a goal, a plan, a successful implementation and good monitoring. This we all know. So the rest of the causes of success or failure are directly linked to emotions and egos, so a good performance in this human side is critical. The way a coffee is served matters more than its quality: clumsy and listless manners can ruin the best Blue Mountain cup.
A good idea management system is proactive and seller. Unlike the typical suggestion box we've all seen in hotels and businesses directly dealing with people, which is a passive and usually invisible object. The latter does not need additional efforts, but gives almost no results and uses physical room. The former, the idea management system, does not exist in the physical level but in the world of thought and knowledge, which is where exists the wealth it intends to channel. Which one would you prefer for your company?
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