Turn Your Suggestion Box into an Innovation Engine

by Patrick Lefler

Turn Your Suggestion Box into an Innovation EngineThere’s one change above all others that can increase the effectiveness of your suggestion box and turn it into supercharged innovation engine. This action will eliminate the mundane ideas and allow the real gems to rise to the top. It will force your workforce to think about game-changing ideas that will help power your growth for years down the line. And it will give your employees a real sense of empowerment as ideas are turned into revenues. So what is that change?

Starting today, make it your policy that all suggestions must be accompanied with an answer to the following question:

“How can this idea be monetized?”

That one question–and by design it’s not a simple one to answer–will motivate your employees to take the next step and think about the various ways that their idea could possibly drive revenue. Asking that question will serve three very important purposes for improving your innovation efforts:

  1. It eliminates ideas that have no bearing on revenue growth. Look, I’m all for getting employee input for the details of upcoming holiday party or getting opinions on whether the cafeteria should open 15 minutes earlier on Fridays, but those types of ideas have absolutely no effect on revenue growth. Now and then, you may get some interesting ideas, but they will, for the most part, be worthless. Remember, innovation only comes when ideas can be monetized.
  2. It challenges the suggester to take the next step and investigate the idea further. It forces you to work harder. It forces you to think about how customers might react to the suggestion. And it forces you to focus on the commercial aspects of the idea. And by asking the suggester to answer the question of how the ideas can be monetized, you’re not asking them to create a business plan; you’re just asking them to give an simple answer. And in some cases, that answer may be “I’m not sure, but I bet that if we can get some input from the sales or marketing staff, the answer will be immediately apparent.” Sometimes an “I don’t know” is the best answer possible. But the point here is that the question will make your employees go the next step and think about the commercial aspects.
  3. It helps create an innovation mindset among your workforce. It reinforces the message that good ideas alone do not constitute innovation. As this mindset begins to take hold among your workforce, you will find that there will be a carryover effect. They won’t just think about innovation when they pass the suggestion box, they will will think about innovation every time a new idea is encountered. And hopefully they will get to the point that whenever these ideas float by, they will immediately challenge themselves or their colleagues by asking the same question that was asked of them: “That’s a great idea. Now how do we monetize it?”

Here’s the takeaway: Start with the suggestion box and raise the bar on what’s required for your workforce to help in the innovation effort. Doing so will help ensure that everyone knows ideas alone can’t drive innovation. Force them to take the next step and answer the question: How can this idea be monetized?

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Patrick LeflerPatrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group – a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.

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  1. This approach could definitely get folks thinking and some could take a mere suggestion and really turn it into a strategic point but it does have its risks.

    The company may appear as only interested in profit with this approach. There could be many lost suggestions to improve work environment, strenghten staff interactions, improve morale, etc. but were not offered.

    It is also requiring the staff to think like a business architect and strategist but some of the staff may not have the business training to articulate the strategy so they could be intimidated out of suggesting a potentially beneficial idea. The company’s strategist is in the best position to maximize a suggestion on every level.

  2. I agree with Shay. Not only does it look as though profit is all that matters, but it ignores the impact on production and profitability that comes from having a positive work environment.

    That’s not to say that it isn’t a good idea to get people to focus more on suggestions that have a real and measurable impact on revenues. In my experience, a share in the profits usually does the trick.

  3. There is certainly value in encouraging staff to think further than the suggestion ie what value would be added. I agree with Shay and Marc that restricting that “value add” to profit is not necessarily helpful. It certainly presents problems in the public sector where service and efficiency may be greater drivers.

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