Fundamental to any form of innovation in any company is the voices of employees. Your employees know your company, product, and customer base better than anyone else in the world, but getting them to discuss what they’ve learned can be a challenge. How can companies create a workplace that encourages everyone to speak up?
Speak Up Or Stay Quiet?
There are two perspectives on employee culture when it comes to speaking up, and both have some degree of merit. The first is that it depends on the employee’s personality. Somebody who’s disinclined to speak up with ideas in the first place is not going to naturally discuss issues unless they’re directly encouraged, while a more outspoken employee might cheerfully offer up opinions regardless of the company culture. Additionally, companies can encourage or discourage certain approaches. If employees see somebody rewarded for speaking up in public, or even countermanding somebody senior to them, that’s going to keep encouraging the behavior.
And there’s a third factor worth discussing. Other research has found that employees might believe they’re expected to speak up and take risks in some scenarios, but not others. A fount of ideas in a coworker meeting might be utterly silent if the CEO is there, for example. It can even depend, to some degree, on situational cues. If the CEO looks furious over something, people might decide discretion is the better part of valor.
Collaboration is for more than just meetings.
Balancing The Scales
The trick to encouraging innovation from every employee is to have tools in place that cater to all approaches. For example, an innovation platform that lets employees anonymously submit ideas for consideration, at absolutely zero risk, is more likely to bring out the more shy and those who think they’re not supposed to speak up at meetings. Conversely, to encourage the outspoken, a platform might have an aspect of democracy in it, encouraging people to go out there and drum up the votes to pass their ideas.
In all cases, though, there are a few uniting factors. First, it should be no-risk, all reward. Sometimes this can involve creative prizes, like the division that submits the most viable, fascinating ideas getting a few extra days of vacation for every member. Second, people should have options that fit their personal comfort level; meeting people halfway is a good method to bring them all the way into the fold. This can filter down to even the simplest policies; having an open-door policy for employees to come in and discuss their concerns can encourage your more quiet employees to step forward.
Finally, there should be a way to show the positive impact of the ideas of which you make use. Thank people for their ideas, and show them how those ideas helped the company move forward, solve a difficult problem, or open a new market. You’d be surprised how compelling a little heartfelt gratitude or even just having an opinion heard can be.