Tapping a neglected resource - employee idea sharing schemes

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Some businesses have spent considerable amounts of money consulting external advisors in a bid to identify ways to be more efficient and to generate more profit when the best resource, the workforce, is right under their nose. Similarly, human resource departments can spend countless hours cultivating a happy workforce. Management and HR could, however, team up and create ‘employee idea sharing schemes’. The benefits are twofold; the ideas will make a business more efficient while the process engages the employees, raising morale and encouraging loyalty.

The schemes are useful because employees are often the best source of expertise and innovation. Not encouraging the workforce to share ideas would be a waste of a business’ most precious resource. No one knows the day-to-day business better than the employees who work on the ground and tapping their knowledge is a sure fire way to edge out the competition.

Idea sharing schemes have gained momentum in the last year, as they are an economical and effective way for a business to spark growth. The scheme needs to be two-sided; one to encourage and develop new ideas and another to reward the employees for their efforts.

Perhaps most obviously, employee idea sharing schemes encourage innovation and creativity. Employees that don’t participate in business decisions have the unique perspective of being on the outside of the management of the business and yet have the insider knowledge of a firm’s strengths and weaknesses. The lack of management experience translates to out-of-the-box ideas.

Employee idea sharing schemes are also an alternative approach for change management. It is well known that during periods of change, a percentage of employees will resist new initiatives. However, if the idea driving the change has come from a co-worker, employees are more likely to get on board and become a driver of change.

John Lewis is perhaps the best example of a company that encourages all employees to take an active role in the running of the business. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg even controversially called for a ‘John Lewis economy’ claiming that it can be good for employees and good for business. However, not all businesses need to subscribe to a John Lewis model. Whether you agree with Nick Clegg or not, businesses can benefit from a scheme to encourage employees to engage with the business and offer useful ideas. Taking one tactic from The John Lewis Partnership, such as establishing regular brainstorming sessions, can be enormously beneficial. Employees at a London branch of a John Lewis store noticed that customers who came in during the lunch hour rush received poor customer service as many employees were also on their lunch break. One employee had the idea to establish two employee lunch shifts, one before the rush and one after. Not only did productivity and customer service skyrocket, but engagement and pride increased as a result of the success.

Businesses should consider the best ways to enact employee idea sharing schemes by firstly analysing the corporate culture. HR directors may want to introduce the scheme team by team to foster engagement or they way wish to make one firm-wide announcement to encourage a unified movement. From there, brainstorming sessions should be organised to kick start the creative juices and thereafter, a system should be put in place where employees can regularly share ideas. It may be regular sessions or a place to send post cards with ideas. HR should regularly remind employees to share ideas through multiple internal communication channels.

One can’t talk of employee idea sharing schemes without referring to the Japanese philosophy called kaizen, which calls for employees on all hierarchical levels to be constantly seeking better ways to do their job. Toyota is a prime example of a company that has implemented kaizen along side a bonus scheme to encourage employees to be the catalysts for improvement. A Toyota employee in the finance department developed the idea of the five-year warranty after management and HR established the kaizen philosophy throughout the firm.

Often times it may suit larger businesses to select areas of the business which need improving rather than focusing on the business as a whole. Nissan’s management team pinpointed environmental efficiency as one such area for improvement. They shared this goal with the workforce and set up a system for employees to share ideas on how the business could be more environmentally responsible. Because of this initiative they are seen as leading the way for other multinational organisations looking to become more sustainable. Providing the workforce with a focal point gives them guidance.

To ensure the scheme is a success, a rewards system should be formed and communicated to employees. However, HR should be aware that monetary rewards could do more harm than good. There are alternative ways that management and HR can establish a system of rewarding the ideas that were put in place including contribution to a pension scheme or increasing benefits and perks.

More businesses are realising the benefits of establishing an employee idea-sharing scheme. It is not solely to gain ideas but to encourage engagement and pride among the workforce. A company’s largest expense is often its workforce so it makes sense for businesses to maximise their employees’ full potential.
 

Comments 

 
# Daniel Robert 2013-04-08 03:49
Yes you are right any HR team of any company is working a lot for its success. They are always working on designing a strategy for employees and their benefits and company's benefits too. The idea sharing scheme is also a good step. Giving employees a chance to share their thoughts will lead your employee's toward hard work and dedication. Every company should adopt this idea sharing strategy.

Cheers
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