Here is a surprise for you: Big Ideas don’t come from some special place, unless you consider the regular employees “special,” which seems to be an uncommon thing in most organizations.
Ideas are not invented out of the blue and they sure don’t come from the top – the best ideas come from hands on people who are dealing with issues of customer dissatisfaction or have hands-on the systems and processes that are thumping and bumping along. Good ideas might also come from the managers, who are listening to issues of the employees getting the work done and who can synthesize those ideas into actionable items for improvement.
If you are trying to make improvements an ongoing business strategy – doing what I call “continuous continuous improvement” – you need to set the expectation that the status quo isn’t set in concrete and the systems and processes need constant updating. It’s what we refer to simply as, “The Round Wheels of Today are the Square Wheels of Tomorrow.”
One has to manage the trust and expectations downward while pulling the ideas upward. Gravity is found in most organizations, where people sometimes see ideation as simply more work. It is easier not to bother than to try to push ideas through perceived communications barriers. That is why we need to add some lightness to the scene, to add some helium to the idea bubbles and not simply allow the pin to hit the balloon and burst motivation and trust (this won’t give you much in the way of positive impacts, by the way).
Most often, a simple concept operates: Ideas for improvement are meant to come from the top of the organization, where things are more clearly understood. We refer to this using a quote I will attribute to the novelist John le Carre – “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”
Ideas from the top might be good, but they are often impractical and costly to implement from an actual dollar standpoint as well as from the point of the cost of human capital. Change pushed on people gets resisted and rejected.
If you want to actively engage and enlist people in improvement efforts, it is far simpler to simply ask them, in an ecological way, for their ideas. Employee engagement is simple to accomplish, if people know where they are going and feel that there is support for innovation.
Recognize that your exemplary performers are already doing things differently than everyone else.
There are no simple answers. And there are also a lot of ways to get this done. The key: simple, ongoing communications focused on listening to ideas to solving problems and improving the workplace.