Getting the most out of employee ideas

Getting the most out of employee ideas

Even in the absence of suggestion systems, subordinates will make suggestions or offer ideas that they think bring about desirable improvements on the work scene. When an employee offers an idea, how do you push for a payoff? Consider these moves:

1. Develop and refine.

Often when an employee brings you an idea, it’s half-baked. You have to help him develop the idea to where it is usable. You and he—and others who can contribute—put your heads together, eliminate the undesirable aspects, and add the elements that make the idea usable.

2. Prepare.

Few ideas can be put to work immediately. Some ideas may have to lie fallow for weeks or months until the proper opportunity for a trial presents itself. in this preliminary period, you may have to figure such things as costs, people, equipment and facilities, and the situation to which it applies. This is the time to acquire whatever missing elements you may need—anything from a special machine to an employee of particular skill—to test the idea.

3. Arrange for a trial.

Some ideas promise advantages that may or may not result. Make sure that a test of an idea is fair and appropriate. For example, you may prove nothing if you take an idea that has been suggested for improving an assembly operation and have the test performed by an inexperienced employee in your group. Also, for some trials, you may want to have more than one observer. “The results were great,” says an employee, following a test of a jig he suggested. “A waste of time,” is the opinion of another employee. Of course, your own presence is advisable to evaluate both the trial and the other opinions you get.

4. Don’t shortcut on final evaluations.

Time and time again it happens that a new method or system passes a preliminary, limited test with flying colors. Then the idea is adopted generally—and the trouble starts. Unexpected developments that didn’t turn up in the trial may develop in widespread applications. For example, a new system that was tested successfully by one of your skilled workers gives other employees trouble in full-scale use. In short, it’s wise to stick with the implementation of an idea until it is really proved out in a “production run” or full-scale application.

5. Reward the Idea Man.

One way to assure a continuing flow of ideas is to reward those you get. The rewards may range from a simple statement of appreciation to cash payments, bonuses, promotions, and so on. Assuming that the reward, whether of the psychic variety—that is, a statement of appreciation—or a more material kind—such as a salary increase—is being made appropriately, there is one more move to make.

It is desirable both from the point of view of the individual who has been rewarded, and your own interest in getting additional ideas, that the group learns of the return your subordinate has been able to get for his efforts.

Can you un-brainwash your subordinates?

“I try to get as many original ideas as possible out of a new employee before he gets brainwashed—that is, settles down into a rut like most old-timers do.” The implication of the above statement is that a “company way of doing things” eventually erodes originality. After a man’s been on the post for a while he gets “brainwashed” in the sense that he adopts the views, values, and behavior of those around him.

Where creative thinking is necessary for performance, the executive may consider steps like these to stimulate a subordinate:

1. Tell him the wraps are off.

In giving the assignment or instructions, make it clear that you want your subordinate to strike out in new directions. You may have to say it in so many words: “I’m giving you a completely free hand on this assignment. . . .

2. Applaud originality; downgrade mediocrity.

As the subordinate goes about the assignment, let him know that you are pleased by any novel to turn his efforts are taking: Frank,” says one executive, “I’m pleased to see you get away from that old form. I’ve always suspected it was a major cause of our paperwork problem.” Not all original ideas are good—but your reactions can make it clear that you favor the effort towards freshness.

3. Make the “new way” a continuing goal.

It’s not enough to limit your approval of originality to special assignments. Make it clear to your group, in the course of work discussions, conferences on departmental problems, and so on, that you’re always on the lookout for breakthroughs, innovations, new and better ways of doing things. Of course, managers aren’t exempt from the inhibiting influence of company brainwashing. On the contrary, top executives point out that often the supervisor or department head not only puts restrictions on the thinking of his people, but also keeps his own thinking in a rut.

Handling employee complaints

Justifiably or otherwise, your people may complain. It may be about anything from the air conditioning to dissatisfaction with career prospects. Your handling of complaints is an important key to the morale of your group. Consider these guidelines, when you get complaints from employees-

1. Check actual conditions.

Some complaints may be founded in fact; others may represent disguised gripes about anything else. Avoid leaping to conclusions about the justness of the matter. Make actual checks and comparisons: take a thermometer reading, use the flow of cigarette smoke to check complaints about a draft, for example.

2. Check consequences.

After you’ve looked into the objective facts, examine the results. Consider taking a “poll” of group opinion on the complaint. This information not only helps you verify the objective situation, but also may represent a measure of the gripe—whether it’s appropriate or an overreaction—and how widespread it may be.

3. Suit relief to the problem.

If the complaint is justified, move as quickly as you can to remedy the situation. This may mean changing the directions of vanes in a heating system, or having Maintenance put weather stripping on a loose window. For some situations, you might ask the complainer for suggestions. On the other hand, if you find the complaint unjustified, present the facts to the employee, or employees involved.

Be matter-of-fact. Your people will be much more likely to accept your findings, if you avoid the “you’re-all-wrong” approach. As veteran executives know, unfounded complaints may be an individual’s bid for attention, or his way of saying, “Show me that you’re interested in my welfare.” This is a possibility when the gripe is base-less. Then your move must be to review your relations with the employee, to see how you can give the reassurance he wants—that he’s recognized and needed as part of the team.

4. Follow up.

Don’t assume that the action you have taken will solve the matter. Chances are, it will. But avoid complications by checking back on the condition, as well as the attitude of the person who made the original complaint. When both show improvement, you’ve got the problem licked.

When Assignments Take Subordinates Off The Premises

From time to time you may have to send an employee on an assignment out of your immediate personal jurisdiction. It may be an assistant, who must do some research for you in the library, or a subordinate to dig into an operating problem in a distant plant. When these people are new to this type of assignment, working outside the range of your personal supervision may pose problems. You don’t want to lose control. Here are seven steps that can help them perform more effectively:

1. Encourage employees to accept responsibility.

Impress people with the opportunity to their self-reliance and reliability. “You’re going to be on your own. . ,

2. Appoint a leader, if it’s more than a one-man job.

Here’s where you have to judge the caliber of your people. If you have two people, who you know will work together, it may be best to give them status. But sometimes, even with just two on the job, you’ll have discord. Giving primary responsibility to one may be the most desirable solution.

3. Spell out your instructions.

It’s even more important than usual to be clear and concise as to what you want done. Fie sure you cover two points: (a) the overall objective, (b) the immediate goal. If necessary, provide written instructions. Where the job can be broken down, write out the steps.

4. Have a send-off inspection.

“We forgot: to take along the inventory cards. . . . ” Forestall loss of time and effort by making sure all necessary materials go out with the employee. If there’s a question of appearance or condition of equipment: they’re taking with them, set up a regular inspection that will catch any oversights.

5. Make sure of what they’ll find.

“Mr. Smith,” telephones an employee from a distant suburb, “I got to the address you gave me, but the supply company moved away three months ago.” Obviously a phone call would have prevented a wild-goose chase. To repeat: check out the situation before sending your man into it.

6. Arrange for a check-back during the job.

Tell the individuals or leader how to communicate with you if any trouble develops. It may be clear to you that the obvious thing is to send a message back with one of the men if anything unforeseen arises. But sometimes the on-the-spot leader’s solution is to call a halt and wait for you to show up. Be sure to spell out how and where they can contact you. If the job’s a long one, you may want regular progress reports. If you have the time, it may be best to visit the scene and check the operation personally. In that case, deal with the appointed leader first, and get his version of how things are going.

7. Ask for a report at the end of the job.

You may want to make this report written or oral. Use it not only as a check on the satisfactory conclusion of the work, but as a cue for the next job.

The new Loyalty

The kind of company loyalty inspired by the old paternalism is fast fading from the business scene. To put it another way, paternalism as an effective management technique is dead. Loyalty, if it is to exist at all, must stem from new sources. There’s a relationship between an employer and employee that can be constructive. Call it loyalty or mutual respect, the result of the relationship is clear: it makes the company seem like a good place to work and it makes his superior seem like a good man to work with. And it makes the employee enjoy his job more. Here’s what’s involved:

1. imbue the employee with a feeling of loyalty to his group.

When work problems are presented as cooperative ventures, a manager can build the feeling that the department is functioning as a unit, with each member’s presence and best efforts essential to the success of the group. Accordingly, the man who feels himself a valued number of the group develops ties of loyalty to his fellow workers.

2. Foster loyalty to a profession or skill.

Whether a man is an accountant, a production foreman, or a drill press operator, he is committed to a particular profession or skill. He is a member of a select group, and subject to the standards of that group. He may entertain the idea of working for another company, but isn’t likely to change his profession or job category. Managers who show employees that they can exercise their professional abilities most effectively and most rewardingly in their present jobs can build professional loyalty and derive the benefit from that personal commitment.

3. Create and encourage personal involvement in the work.

When managers allow subordinates to share the responsibilities of planning and executing their own work, they provide a chance for self-fulfillment—and consequent emotional reward. The manager who puts a subordinate on a challenging task, with clearly-defined and exciting objectives, is creating the conditions for job satisfaction.

A basic point should be clear: while the old loyalty was based on paternalism and the doling out of material benefits, the new loyalty is the result of acknowledging the integrity of the employee, and creating an atmosphere in which he can satisfy his psychic needs, the desire for accomplishment and work satisfaction.

Certified Leadership Skills Professional

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