Some of you may have read the recent article in which a Gallup researcher indicated that employee engagement has not been impacted at all in spite of all the efforts to drive that behavior. I believe that there are a number of factors that impact this including the one that I spoke to in my last post around participation. Closely connected and a natural outcome of participation is the generation of ideas and the understanding of their value to a company and a team.
One of the key things that will evolve out of driving staff to determine measures and collect metrics around their performance is the development of opportunities lists. These are known by many things; suggestion boxes, employee input and so on but what they really represent is your employees moving from measuring and communicating to innovating or if you want idea generation. That idea generation is the gold that you want to continue to drive as a leader.
"But I already do that," you may protest and perhaps you do. The data on this issue would not indicate in your favor. An EIA (Employee Involvement Association) study on the level of employee participation around idea generation came up with some interesting results. In a quick comparison for example, an average employee in Japan will submit 32 ideas per year and in North America that number is 0.17 ideas per employee! Let that sink in for a moment.
What’s more is that the study found that the net savings per idea in North America worked out to around $7102 and in Japan to around $129. Don't pat yourself on the back just yet. At 32 ideas per year vs 0.17 there were more ideas to go around! When we factor in these numbers on a per employee basis it works out to $3612 per idea in Japan vs $398 in North America. To add insult to injury is that of the relatively few ideas that are generated on average in North American companies only 33% are adopted while in Japan that rate of adoptions is 87%.
Why so different? Perhaps we look at idea generation much less positively or we have never taken the time to understand the value of an idea. I suspect that given our propensity to be competitive we usually dismiss most idea's (or discourage them) because they are not the "home-runs" we are looking for. We want the quick fix and the million-dollar idea while our counter parts else where are more than content with ideas that create even modest savings.
The reality is that even a small idea can have a big impact. In one Japanese company the average return per idea was around $50 but when multiplied by the thousands of ideas submitted it accounted for almost $10 million in net profit in a single year. (Aubrey Daniels, - Bringing out the best in people.)
You need your strategic goals, you need your operational goals and you need your individual goals and the metrics and kpi's that go with each of these. But Continuous Improvement won't take off until those metrics begin to inform innovation and generate ideas. Like panning for gold, often what you find are small nuggets or even gold dust but over time it adds up. The lesson here is never underestimate the value of a small idea.