September 9, 2013

My Employee Engagement Advice to a Stranger

helpFrom time to time — and now with an increasing frequency, like that of my biscuit cravings — people reach out to me for some advice over the ole email.

If I can, I’m happy to help.

It would be even better if they could find a way to hide the biscuits in my house.

One such plea for assistance arrived in the ole email this past week. Given the situation isn’t unique, I thought I’d share the problem as well as my answer (seems sensible, no?) in terms of a potential resolution. Of course, I’ve removed the names and other bits in order to ensure anonymity of my new friend.


My question for you is, since I work for a <insert industry/organization type> which is very much rooted in old-school structure and organization, what is your advice for implementing some sort of formal innovation management structure? I know the terms seem contradictory, innovation and structure, but we currently have a “talk2ceo” email which is a direct line for suggestions to our CEO, but I think sometimes people are shy to speak up BECAUSE it is the CEO.

Also, when our CEO recently had a pre-budgeting meeting with all of our managers and asked for 3 out of the box ideas from each person, we didn’t get any mind-blowing suggestions. My thought is that either they couldn’t think of anything so they came up with small ideas to round out their expected “three ideas,” OR these small ideas come up because people aren’t sure of the avenue for their ideas, or they fear that the idea is silly or will get lost in the shuffle. In addition, I think that the big ideas don’t come out because our employees are AFRAID that it will be too out-of-the-box.

dp’s Potential Solution

It sounds like you need one of two things:

1) An “idea jam” that is itemized by 3 levels: incremental change, evolutionary change and crazy out there change. If it’s framed appropriately employees will see the difference and provide feedback accordingly.

2) A private “idea jam” might also be useful. One that is open only by level or title, and then a handpicked crew sort through the suggestions and pare them down to implement. This allows employees anonymity with the entire org.

If your culture doesn’t yet support an open idea exchange, the two suggestions above can work well.

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