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Ideas are one of the most critical parts of the "engine" that keeps successful companies improving. They are the root of innovation.
Labatt has been in operation in Canada for nearly 170 years and our success is based on fostering a culture that embraces ideas, regardless of their origin. Of course, this concept is not unique to Labatt. Every company, irrespective of age, size, the industry or location in which it operates would do well to recognize the broad impact that comes from empowering employees to bring ideas to the table. This might sound simple enough, but the idea mining process is about so much more than dropping an employee suggestion box in the cafeteria.
These five steps are what I believe to be critical aspects of fostering a culture of ideas:
According to Statistics Canada, in 2012, Canada's business consulting industry was worth more than $14-billion. Consultants get the call when an organization faces a challenge. In a manner of speaking, they're professional problem-solvers dealing in an economy of ideas. There's only one problem with this approach and that is their lack of a connection to, and deep experience with, the inner workings of the company.
No one understands a company better than the people who work there. They have a vested interest in understanding the processes and intricacies that make their organization "tick" and invariably, how they can be improved.
Educate your organization in the critical factors and measures that make you competitive – the factors that will ensure your continuing prosperity, and then empower people with tools to develop, share and implement ideas. Remove the "idea resistance" roadblocks from everyone – and especially those at the front lines of their departments – so that they know that their creative thinking is welcome and critical to your success.
Emphasize quick hits
Not every idea needs to be radically transformative. In fact, some of the most successful ideas are what's often referred to as a "quick hit." Tackling big, complex issues is definitely important; yet doing so occupies considerable resources and time.
Quick hits are smaller tweaks or adjustments to existing processes that can be implemented with relative ease. They rarely require detailed discussion and tend not to get bogged down in procedure because their benefits are readily apparent. Embracing the value of dozens of smaller quick hits can have the same cumulative effect as a single big idea.
Take a 360-degree approach
It's flat-out wrong to assume that good ideas need to start at the top of an organizational hierarchy. Every person within an organization has the ability and desire to make things work better. Ignoring that fact only serves to hasten failure.
Every day I hear amazingly creative thinking from brewery workers to logistics staff to marketing and human resources personnel – simply put, from throughout our organization. Some organizations have embraced this thinking so enthusiastically that they've adopted official policies to ensure everyone, regardless of title or role, has a voice and the opportunity to contribute. When a company can get that kind of collective force behind its business, not only does it create an asset that helps it to forge ahead of the competition in the marketplace, it also has the positive effect of preserving employee morale while furthering a spirit of inclusion.
Encourage ownership and facilitate action
Like the suggestion box, packed with anonymous scribbles that collects dust in a corner, it should come as no surprise that orphaned ideas or those without someone to execute them are practically useless.
Many years ago, I shared an idea with my manager who thanked me for my efforts and immediately asked what he could do to help me get it done. I learned in that moment that responsibility for improving something I personally understood and was passionate about is something that cannot be delegated.
Today, I am on the receiving end where people bring ideas to me, and my job is to facilitate action. I educate employees on the types of ideas we need. I listen, advise, provide support and expertise when required, and help ensure ideas are pushed through the appropriate channels.
Identifying opportunities for innovation through idea generation is key to creating a more efficient, dynamic and competitive organization. It therefore should go without saying – but doesn't always – that any idea that results in positive change, as well as the team that got the job done, should be recognized and the improvement shared company-wide to reap its full benefits.
The aim in celebrating success is to reinforce the idea sharing and development process. Acknowledging the efforts of employees who affect change will also go a long way in encouraging others to participate and in turn, keep the momentum going.
Companies thrive thanks to ideas from within. Ensure that the proper tools and resources to encourage employee innovation and creative thinking are in place, and good things will come. Mine the invaluable minds of the people working across the organization. Your business will thank you for it in the end.
Charlie Angelakos (@c_angelakos) is vice-president of corporate affairs for Labatt Breweries of Canada.