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By J. Lenora Bresler, J.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR


It’s the beginning of a new year but for many, January seems like the “winter doldrums.” After the excitement and energy of the holiday season, energy level and productivity of workers often decline in January. This is very bad news, especially since a survey of the American labor indicated that only 12-15% of American workers are giving their best to their jobs at any time and that the average American worker only makes 2.7 work-related suggestions a year.

It is clear that employers must do something to jumpstart creativity. A good idea is an “idea generation” campaign whereby staff is encouraged and rewarded for offering innovative solutions. Businesses that enact such campaigns report up to a 70% improvement in quality and also in employee morale, which is understandable in that employees routinely say that having management listen more to their ideas is a good way to keep them happy.

Idea generation campaigns must begin with employers taking a realistic look at their current policies. Many company procedures actually discourage innovative thinking by putting in place so much committee or cross-departmental red tape that employees are discouraged to speak.  The reason for such procedures is often a desire to keep costly mistakes at a minimum, but the fact is that in today’s competitive environment, most productivity gains resulting from incremental change are not going to the profit bottom line of the business but to customer cost savings.  This means that only large productivity gains engendered by dramatic changes will prove of major impact to the business, so employees should be encouraged to make drastic suggestions.

Businesses can consider awarding Giraffe awards, recognizing those who “stick their neck out” with new ideas, even if those ideas did not prove ultimately successful. Also, post problems on a bulletin board and encourage staff to write suggestions for solving the issues on post-it notes and attach them to the board.  Give prizes for worthwhile ideas not only to the person who had the idea but also to his or her supervisor, to encourage the manager to create an environment of idea-generation.  Encourage employees to give suggestions across departments by facilitating a “Not Invented Here” award.   Another thought would be to a have a one-idea-for-improvement contest conducted company-wide for one month and see how much energy is generated.

It takes a concerted effort on the part of employers to stir the creative juices of their employees, but the return on that time investment can be very great!


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