Saturday, March 19, 2016

Why employees’ ideas go nowhere and what needs to change.


If you are going to be a competitive powerhouse, you have to innovate.  As Gary Kunkle showed, companies that show consistently strong growth get 90% of their ideas from employees.  Other companies don’t seem to realize that their employees have just as many ideas, they just don’t bring them forward.  When you get it right, you can implement lots of ideas.  At NUMMI they implemented over 10,000 ideas per year from about 3,000 workers.

Why do employees hold back their ideas? Fear is one reason.  Lots of actions in a company can create the fear factor.  The obvious one is the tyrant-boss.  Other actions can have surprisingly long impacts.  A layoff years ago can continue to worry remaining employees and they will think about the risk, not the benefit in suggesting change.

"Ideas in Limbo"
However, the biggest reason employees hold back on ideas is not the fear factor.  Writing for the Harvard Business Review, James Detert and Ethan Burris point out that the biggest reason employees don’t bring ideas forward is the concern that managers won’t do anything with them.1

Detert and Burris suggest it’s a “why bother” attitude.  But there’s more to it than that.  An original idea is a precious asset.  There’s a lot of emotion baked into seeing a solution to a problem in a new way, and then proposing your solution.   It’s your baby and you’re better off withholding it than having it undervalued and rejected.  Once an idea is on the table, it’s worth is determined by what happens next, and that depends upon the manager.  If nothing happens, that’s not good.  By doing nothing with an idea, managers can avoid taking a risk.  They too, are influenced by the prevailing culture around risk-taking and will avoid situations where the benefit does not significantly out-weigh the risk.

In the end, an idea that gets implemented will succeed or fail based on its merits as a good solution.  If it’s a product change, the customer will decide.  If it’s an intermediate process change, the effectiveness and efficiency of the new process will decide.  Wouldn’t it be better to let the merits of an idea determine its fate rather than leaving it up to a management structure that flawed, risk-averse, and biased?


The Rebel-Gatetm methodology we promote does just that.  It allows ideas to move forward without a management review.  At the same time it brings a strong element of control and impels a desire among all employee to husband resources.  Rebel-Gate is an ingenious solution to this 'ideas'  problem.  If you're interested in finding out more contact us.

1 Detert, Fames R., Burris, Ethan R. "Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely." Harvard Business Review Jan-Feb. 2016: 81-87. Print.
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