Launching Your Employees on an Idea Quest

Adapted with permission from “The Q-Loop: The Art & Science of Lasting Corporate Change” by Brian Klapper (Bibliomotion, May 2013).

By Brian Klapper

Imagine for a moment an organization where people are highly productive, efficient, and creative…where they are empowered to share bold ideas, solve problems, and explore new opportunities…where they actively contribute in decision-making and feel like owners in the organization’s mission. Sound like a fantasy? Perhaps. But it’s not out of reach.

Today, this description doesn’t capture the current state of affairs at most organizations, where employees often feel left out of strategic decisions and overlooked in the shaping and planning of new initiatives once a decision is made to pursue them.

I have worked with organizations time and again to help them produce lasting change by leveraging the knowledge already present within client personnel. Front-line employees—the customer service agents on the phone with customers, the health-care professionals interacting with patients, the cashiers behind the register, the salespeople walking the floor, the delivery drivers—too often are overlooked or not given a voice within an organization. Yet this group is closest to your customers and the products and services you offer. Without them, a change initiative doesn’t stand a change.

According to a survey by Accenture, there’s a good chance you agree, given that 90 percent of organizational leaders believe active employee engagement has a positive impact on success. Chances are also good that you aren’t doing anything about it, since this same survey reveals that 75 percent of leaders have no engagement plan in place. It’s a massive shortcoming when you consider that a recent Gallup poll found that lost productivity resulting from disengaged employees costs the U.S. economy $370 billion each year.

Your assistant, junior associate, bank teller, barista, pizza maker, custodian, or forklift operator might have answers to your organization’s most pressing issues or fixes for time-wasting problems. They might have ideas for new ways to satisfy the customer or insight into how to tweak a pressing mandate so that this time it actually will be embraced by the rest of the organization. But most organizations won’t benefit from these valuable IQ points because management doesn’t invite meaningful, focused input and collaboration from front-line employees. Instead, they look elsewhere to unearth newer, faster, better, cheaper, more innovative waysof doing things when the answer is right under their noses.

The challenge is to focus your employees’ combined brainpower by asking smart questions and facilitating the flow of information along fruitful paths to solve problems and discover opportunities.

Embracing Front-Line Employees as the Real Experts

Front-line experts see a great many problems and opportunities their managers don’t. Depending on the position, a front-line worker may gather knowledge from hundreds of interactions a day. The tremendous opportunity for organizations is to pull this knowledge from employees’ day-to-day experiences, make decisions, and act upon them through those same employees.

Interestingly, a win-win situation arises when employees are looked to for ideas and when they are asked to help shape management ideas and mandates.

Companies with high-performing idea systems report that that roughly 80 percent of overall performance improvements come from front-line employees throughout the organization—while only 20 percent come from management-initiated projects.Considering these facts, it’s eye-opening that most organizations largely ignore the enormous resource of employee ideas. Either their managers don’t realize the power of employee ideas, or they have never learned how to systematically capture and channel this wealth of insights into the vast array of decisions made within the organization.

Without the passionate engagement of your front line, you will be at a severe disadvantage. Tap into this powerhouse of great ideas, on the other hand, and you will unlock a vast and formidable resource—because when the front line sees strategies and decisions that result from their own astute input, they are substantially more engaged in making them successful.

Adapted with permission from “The Q-Loop: The Art & Science of Lasting Corporate Change” by Brian Klapper (Bibliomotion, May 2013). For more information, visit http://www.amazon.com/The-Q-Loop-Science-Lasting-Corporate/dp/1937134520

Brian Klapper is the president and founding partner of The Klapper Institute. He is the author of “The Q-Loop: The Art & Science of Lasting Corporate Change.”

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