How To Make Employee Ideas A Reality
How many times have you been asked for your suggestions on how to improve things at work? If you have, you are in the minority. A famous engagement survey once suggested that only 33% of employees have ever been asked that question. Two-thirds of us haven't. And if you're in that privileged minority, how many times have you plucked up the courage to submit your suggestions only to never hear anything about it again? How did that make you feel? What did it do to your feelings about replying to such requests again in the future?
One of the four proven enablers of employee engagement is when employees genuinely feel like they have a voice in the company that is not only listened to, but heard and where appropriate, acted upon. It's this final piece around action that can often prove to be the most difficult. For every winning idea, there will be a load more that may not be workable, or be able to be taken forward at this time, or are just plain nuts. But how you handle communicating that back will set you apart from the also-rans whose employees give only their time, as the kind of business that benefits from having a willing and continuous flow of ideas to help the company and its employees smash its short, medium, and long-term targets.
In episode 62 of the employee engagement and workplace culture podcast, Sticky From The Inside, I talk to Will Read from Sideways6, about what it really takes to run and implement a successful employee ideas programme, that continuously makes good employee ideas a reality.
Below is a full transcript of that conversation, but you can also listen here.
00:00:10 Andy Goram
Hello and welcome to Sticky From the Inside, the Employee Engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition, smashing consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone. This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it. So if you wanna take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.
00:01:11 Andy Goram
OK. One of the saddest things I see in my work with clients on engagement strategies is when employees have been good enough, helpful enough and brave enough to volunteer their thoughts, or opinions to a survey, or a piece of internal research, but that feedback goes into a black void. It's something I see all too often. If your suggestion meets with approval, or is in line with the strategy, or idea that is already planned, in most companies you can pretty much be sure of getting some response to your suggestion. That's not the case though if your idea isn't considered to be right for implementation. Most of the time you just get some deafening silence. I would argue that everybody should get some form of genuine communication back, even if it's just to say thanks. But even more so if your suggestion isn't going to make it. You'll never see it happen, so you'll never be one of those people that can think,
“Hey! One of my ideas made it. Fantastic!”
It would be fair for you to assume at that point that no one has listened to you, or that you've been ignored. And how is that going to make you feel? At best probably unlikely to volunteer your ideas again. And at worst, disconnected from the business totally. Feeling unloved, unvalued and ready to find somewhere else.
This doesn't just happen when we're looking for new ideas, or on innovation drives. A quick dive into the verbatim comments on most engagement surveys will show you the same thing happens there too. How many times have you been told in the run up to a survey that it's vital that you complete the survey, so we can hear what you think and how you feel about working here? Plenty, I'm sure. You click the link you've completed it, you're honest, you're open, you provide additional feedback when asked, and yet all you get back in return is a headline score for the business’ engagement, and a list of things that will looked at, if you're lucky.
Now 67% of your employees are just present. They give you their time, but not their best effort or ideas. Now, with treatment like that, why should we be surprised? The saddest fact is that the majority of those employees have never even been asked for their input. It makes me cringe to think about what organisations and the people working inside them are all missing out on as a result. And that's why I'm delighted to be joined today by Will Read.
Will runs a company called Sideways 6, which is devoted to the encouragement, capture and use of employee ideas, and helps all sorts of companies build relevant and successful employee ideas programmes and reap the organisational and employee-related benefits as well. So today I'm really looking forward to hearing about his personal journey behind starting this company and what best practise looks like in this space, as well as probably hear some stories of how not to do this stuff.
Welcome to the show, Will!
00:04:19 Will Read
Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here.
00:04:22 Andy Goram
It's great to have you here, Will. Really good to have you here. People that know me, know I'm a volunteer for Engage for Success, right, and we have these four enablers of engagement, and employee voice is right in there as one of the kind of major levers, enablers of employee engagement. And arguably,, you read any articles now following the pandemic employee voice has never been more important, right? Not just to sort of gauge opinion on how things are, but to help businesses grow, innovate, diversify... all these good things. But before we get into all that good stuff, do me a favour, Will, will you? Just give us a better introduction to you and Sideways6, and what you're focusing on right now, than I've just done.
00:05:06 Will Read
Yeah, to be honest that was a brilliant introduction and covered so many of the reasons that we exist. So we exist to help bring good ideas to life every day, everywhere, and from everyone. And that's kind of emblazoned on our walls and everything that we do. And we do that through idea management software, and advice and services.
We believe passionately in the power of employee ideas. Not just the power of the ideas when they're implemented to do good stuff. So, to help kind of open up new revenue streams, or make employee experience better, or reduce costs, or increase efficiencies. All that good stuff. The classic things that we know happen when good ideas come to life, but also the power of the process to engage people, to make people feel that little bit better about where they are working, to make them not part of that 60-odd percent that are just turning up but, not particularly engaged in what they're doing.
And actually, the power of employee ideas to engage people in particular things, right? To engage people in change, to create shared ownership of the things that are important to an organisation. So that's what we do, is we try and make those three benefits happen for organisations big and small. And we're kind of stubborn on the Purpose, flexible on the How. So, over the years we’ve built various products to make that happen and we've started to offer services, all of that good stuff. Very proud of everything that we've achieved doing it for some awesome companies and then doing it in hopefully the right way as well, so trying to build a culture ourselves which is engaging and in which people really enjoy doing their best work in. No mean feat. So I like listening to your podcast for tips.
So outside of that, I'm pretty nerdy about all of this idea stuff and company building stuff. Outside of that to get my kicks, I like to box. I’m actually a kind of DJ and yeah, I like to create and take myself to the limits really outside of work.
00:07:05 Andy Goram
Amazing. That's fantastic. What I love about all of that, is the word “stubborn” when it comes to purpose, right? I mean, what's the point of having a purpose if you're not, like, properly wedded to it and totally, totally aligned to it, right? I only wish many more businesses were that committed to their Purpose, right? I think we'd all be in a better place.
I'm fascinated to talk to you today, because I think in my own experiences of back in corporate land, you know, either trying to contribute ideas most of the time, that was probably a lot of my job, but also being on the receipt end of it and trying to deal with these things and it never really gaining much traction. I'm really interested as to where the genus for all this thing came from, from you. What happened in your career to make you think.
“Right! Here's a space I can make an impact on and I know it's going to bring a benefit.”
What happened to you? Where did it come from?
00:08:02 Will Read
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think my experience will probably resonate with some of your listeners. I think All but the very luckiest of us have had at least one experience during our working careers where we felt like we are not a part of the bigger whole. Where we are not consulted, listened to, heard. Where actually, our ideas and our opinions don't particularly matter at work. And I certainly had that experience early on in my career.
I joined the graduate scheme in a big company. I was the definition of kind of a small fish in a big pond. And even though I'd been excited to go into the role, after six months there my excitement and enthusiasm and engagement had really diminished. Mainly being because I'd had this experience of kind of speaking to our customers. So, for me it was B2B customers, but speaking to our customers, hearing insights and then really having nowhere to go with those insights and the ideas that they led to. Right, so I had these ideas about how our product could be better. I had these ideas about how the IT costs, the experience for the customer could be better. Now granted, as a graduate, without a huge amount of context, a load of them might have been rubbish. But some of them might have been interesting. And some of them might have been a little bit interesting, but if I had been able to get a load of other minds on it, they might have turned into something really interesting. But there was no opportunity for that.
And what that led to, is instead of kind of going out and putting these ideas forward into the world, they got discussed, with a little bit of a tinge of resentment, with my friends, who didn't work at the company, on a Friday at the pub. And that experience really stuck with me. And then at a later date, I moved into working in an agency, and we were building tools for big organisations. And I ended up speaking to the company that I used to work for. And it turns out that they actually had multiple employee ideas platforms in use at the company. So that I found that quite interesting, because I had the experience that they didn't listen, and it turns out that they did want to. So actually, it turns out that the desire was there from the company.
And I'm sure actually, if I'd... if that experience had been related to the CEO, or the CHRO, or the Head of comms, they would have thought,
“That's terrible. That's not what we're trying to do here. We absolutely are trying to listen.”
But that's not what happened.
So, then it struck me. That it must be something in the process or the mechanism, and that's where it came from. That's where the thought came from. Can we build a mechanism that works to help employees be heard and to help companies listen and actually leverage people's ideas?
00:10:42 Andy Goram
I think it's interesting as well. You think about you, coming into a business as a graduate, right? You're at that point probably at your most excited. Knowing the graduates I've worked in the past, properly confident. “I’m going to be here and make an impact”, right? But to have ideas or thoughts, not really go anywhere and just sort of fall into a vacuum, can be quite, I guess, demoralising, right? And it can dampen that enthusiasm. And already, we've kind of watered down the product we've just bought as a business.
00:11:12 Will Read
00:11:13 Andy Goram
And I think on the other side of the coin. It's really interesting when you're in receipt of lots of ideas. Because I remember, and I don't think I've told this story on the podcast before, but I remember in marketing, you know, trying to engage with employees in the early part of my career and looking for suggestions for promotions and other bits and pieces that we that we could do. And I had one guy in payroll processing who literally five times a week would send me ideas. Now great, right? But they were mad and were way, way, way bigger than we could ever afford to do. But it was constant. And I kind of got into my head, like either I can shut this guy down, or I can ignore him, or I can kind of just move on. But I took the decision to kind of each time he sent an idea, I would pop around and explain why perhaps we weren't able to sponsor the Premiership or something, you know? And why we couldn't do this that and the other. And I think he appreciated having a chat. But the ideas kept coming and this went on for maybe 18 months, right? And I built a lovely relationship with him, but I was still getting mad-arse ideas until one day. One day, one of these ideas was an absolute corker. And we implemented it. It went really well. I'm not going into details of it, but it was a fantastic idea.
Now I always look back at that pain. Personal pain for 18 months and think,
“Wow, if I hadn't gone through that, I wouldn't have landed on this big idea”
Right? That must be something you see all the time.
00:12:57 Will Read
I love that. There's actually been studies that suggest that as long as you handle people's ideas well, even if you are kind of quote unquote, rejecting them again and again and again, you can get into double figures with people kind of continuing, like continuing to bring ideas to the fore. And it just shows that like People want to be heard. People want to contribute. People want to contribute to the success of an organisation outside of their narrowly defined role. And if you give them that opportunity then sooner or later, there will be a good idea. Now, how you make get more of those good ideas versus quote unquote, bad ideas, or how you get more ideas that are actually likely to be implemented and see success, versus ideas that are unlikely to be implemented and are unlikely to lead success, there's a bunch of things that you can do. But I think what you've just talked about there, is the importance of creating a culture where people feel like they can stand up and be heard. I mean, if you had said that first time, or if you the first time, or the second time, or the third time, if you would either said, “I'm not interested”, which is effectively what a lot of organisations are doing. If you just tell people, say your new big sustainability strategy, or if you just tell people, “Right, we're focused on efficiency now” and you don't say, “So how're we gonna do it, team?” Or you don't say, “We've got 80% of the plan, but we're interested in in the 20% coming from our people.”
You're effectively saying, “We know best and we're not interested in what you think.”
00:14:28 Andy Goram
That's not a conversation, is it, Will? That's not a conversation, that's a monologue.
00:14:30 Will Read
And then the second thing that you could have done, and then to draw the analogy there, is you could have listened to him, or at least let him say his bit, and then completely ignored it. So you could have not kind of processed it in your head. You could have been like, “Oh, here we go again. There we go. Let’s just ignore it.” And then he could have not heard anything back from you. And then so disengaged in that way as well. So, and that is what happens with a lot of organisations with things like surveys, or if you try and run an ideas programme, which you get excited about the prospects, and it all goes wrong. It’s really disengaging, actually, to get excited and to think, “Yeah, they're really listening.” And then crickets. And then nothing. And so you've kind of highlighted a couple of the ways that you can get this get this wrong.
Now, if I was to give you tips on how to deal with that person again. One of the tips I’d give is to give as much context as possible. You mentioned in your introduction that actually, if an idea is likely to fit into the predefined strategy, or challenges, or whatever, it's more likely to be implemented. And though I think you're right to draw on the challenges of that, i.e. like, what about those out-of-the-box ideas? There are some benefits that every organisation is trying to achieve something. Ideally, they're trying to achieve a noble purpose at the top and ideas that go into that purpose should be considered. But also they'll be trying to achieve something in the short to medium term. So, they'll have some kind of strategy, or mission or mid-term goal, and then they'll have parts of the organisation focused on objectives that lead up into that. And if you can give as much context as possible as to what the organisation is trying to do in the long, medium and short term, and give as much context as possible to what you or your department are trying to achieve in the long, medium, or short term, you're gonna start skewing towards the types of good ideas that can be implemented. So that would be one of the things that I might kind of look at.
And one of the tips that we always give to people that we're talking to, around setting these types of programmes up, is give as much context as possible. Let people know what the current challenges are. Let people know what the current goals are. Let people know what the long-term implications are, and then you can turn their insight towards that.
Another thing would be when you are setting this up, and if you are taking that kind of challenge-based approach, to look at setting those challenges, or those themes or those campaigns up in what we call the kind of golden Trinity. Which is a pretty grand name, but 3 concentric circles. And you want to be asking for people's ideas in the middle of these three concentric circles.
So first off, it needs to be something that the organisation cares about. All that stuff that I've just talked about. The really long-term stuff on our purpose. So our purpose is, as I said at the beginning, bringing good ideas to life every day, everywhere and from everyone. So if any ideas come up that could help us to do that, even if it isn't to do directly with idea management software, even if it isn't to do directly with idea management services, even if it's some crazy out-of-the-box idea, I'm interested. Because it helps us get towards our purpose. That's a good thing.
The second concentric circle to be thinking about is do employees care about this? Is there likely to be a degree of enthusiasm, interest, even frustration, about this topic? All of those things are good and are likely to lead to higher engagement in your ideas programme, if people actually care. So if you go out and say, let me give you an example. We ran an ideas programme around our new office and our new working model after COVID, right? So we weren't sure exactly how to do it, and I wanted people to Co-create that strategy with me. So I said, “What are your ideas on how we can get that right?” You can bet people cared about that because it's such a big impact on their lives. If I was to go on about some like, “How do you think we should deal with our inter-country tax affairs?” It might be a bit of a snooze-fest. You might not get too much.
Then the third concentric circle is, are employees are likely to have some kind of insight here, that would lead to good ideas. And this is where I get so excited about frontline organisations implementing these ideas programmes, because there is so much insight bubbling around. If you look at a retailer, if you look at an airline, if you look at any organisation where there is some kind of front-line interacting with your customer, there is likely to be so much insight in that front line.
And of course, all employees are likely to have areas where they have insight. But yeah, that's your three to look at to get a higher likelihood of great ideas:
Does the company care about this topic?
Do employees care about this topic?
Are they likely to have some kind of unique insight that might lead to some great ideas.
00:19:23 Andy Goram
I love that. I really love that model. That's really nice and simple and sets a very good tone.
Naturally, I also like the fact that in there is this link to purpose and values. And just to check back a sec. And you were talking about, at the start, that when you were the graduate, and you had all these ideas and they were kind of falling apart. Did you have that connection to the the organisation’s purpose and values, or were you disconnected from it at that point?
00:19:52 Will Read
Yeah, I was disconnected from it, to be honest with you. I didn't really know what our purpose and values were? I'm sure during my onboarding I was told them, but they didn't... it wasn't an organisation where they were really consistently brought to life. We were also part of almost like a satellite office in a business that had been bought by that company and that probably didn't help. But I think one of the kind of things that we talk about is to just give context till you're bored of it. Give context till you're frustrated about it. Give context to till you're annoying yourself by saying it yet again. Like that purpose needs to be drilled into people. It needs to be the beginning. I mean, for us, we start every monthly update with our purpose. We start every quarterly update with our purpose. I reference our purpose all the time, because it's so important. But I didn't feel that with that organisation, and that probably led into... like if I... with that context you can do amazing things, right? With that context we can have ideas that have nothing to do with short term goals that still might be amazing. Without that context you might be trying to sponsor football teams, or we were brought in once where a company had launched an ideas programme and there were some real sceptics about ideas programmes because they said,
“Look, we launched this and the idea that really bubbled up to the top, that got the most traction was that we should put an ice cream machine in the corner of every office.” And I was like, “Well, what did you ask them? What did you ask people for their ideas on?” We just said, “Give us your ideas on anything. How can we make X Co better?”
00:21:29 Andy Goram
00:21:30 Will Read
And of course, objectively, there are criteria under which that would be a good idea, right? If it was, “How do you make employees days more delightful?” That probably makes your day a little bit more delightful, if there is unlimited ice cream in the corner. Probably also doesn't do great stuff for your health. Doesn't do great stuff for the finances of the company, doesn't.... There's a load of criteria under which that makes no sense. And you have to give the context to what you're trying to achieve, in order to get the ideas. And I think that I probably didn't have that. You’re right.
00:22:02 Andy Goram
You're right. So that's a fascinating link. And then looking back to your three concentric circles, you know one's missing for you straight off the bat, right? Your top circle of what the organisation cares about. You're not related to that. So already your ideas are already, on their radar, they're deficient, right? They could be great. You could have something you really care about. You've seen there's lots of problems. So you're covering off the care and you're covering off the insight, but the lack of connection means maybe it's a bit misdirected. That's a really interesting model to start to look at things through. Thank you for that.
I guess what we're starting to talk about here is the two-way conversation. The thing about listening, hearing and action though, right? I mean cause there are probably hundreds of ideas that are living out there, but not living, because they haven't gone anywhere. Or there's been lack of feedback or there's been no action taken. So I guess what we're really talking about here is listening to and giving employees a voice, making them feel involved and connected to their mission, and the context, and I guess the performance journey that the business is on. And so, in the world that you've now tried to create, what’s the difference between success and failure here? I mean, clearly it's going to relate back to your model, but what do you see in the client work that you do, that is the definition of success and failure.
00:23:36 Will Read
Yeah, absolutely. So typically companies are trying to implement this for one of three reasons. Usually I mentioned earlier, but they're either trying to get the benefits from the implemented ideas themselves. And depending on what they're turning the ideas programme towards, be it cost savings or be it sustainability or be it innovation or be it, whatever it might be, customer experience. Those implemented ideas will mean different things, but this is the typical the typical one, right? There's cold, hard ROI if you can find an idea which fits in with everything you're trying to do and you implement it.
There’s two other goals that companies might be trying to achieve when they start a programme like this. It might be that the are trying to generally increase employee engagement. It feels good to be heard. We have one customer where off the back of the ideas programme, 76% of the people who contributed to the ideas programme said they now felt closer to the business as a result of having done so. So just general employee engagement in your business, it's feels good to be heard. If I had had this experience, I think I would have been much less likely to have been moaning, much less likely to do that to my mates on Friday, much less likely to have left before the end of my graduate programme. All that good stuff.
Then the third benefit, is to engage employees in particular change and create shared ownership of changing goals. So that is the example of sustainability. Rather than telling people that we care about it, getting them to co-create. There's this concept called the endowment effect, or the IKEA effect that studied to tell us that if we helped to co-create something, we place more value on it. If I've got two sets of drawers, exactly the same from IKEA, one of them was from the section, you know, the bit just before the tills, where it's all pre-made.
00:25:17 Andy Goram
I'm too busy thinking about Dime Bars at that point.
00:25:23 Will Read
And there's another one that you went home and you spent an hour building a bloody thing and somehow you care a lot more about that one. That's been studied. It's called the endowment effect. And by asking people for their ideas around particular strategies and implementing some of them in particular change, you are creating that endowment, that shared ownership of those goals.
So companies are trying to achieve one of those three things. Now, how do they measure success on those? It's usually... There's only a few different things that you want to be looking at. How many ideas are you actually...
Sorry, actually we'll start right from the kind of very end. So, you might be looking at ROI. So, all of the ideas that were implemented, what did they do to our Company? Did they reduce carbon emissions? Did they improve customer experience? Did they reduce costs? Did they open up new revenue streams? One thing to look at. We’ll now move slightly to the left of the funnel, and you. might look at how many ideas did we bring to life? So we said we wanted to run an ideas programme, because we actually cared about bringing the ideas to life, which is key. And without that you kind of kill the flywheel. Without bringing ideas to life, you don't have the stories to talk about. You don't get the funding to keep this thing going. You don't get employees engaged. So you look at how many ideas you bring to life.
The third, if you move slightly to the left of the funnel again, you might look at some metric of quality of ideas, right? So how many of these ideas meet a kind of quality metric? Are they, for example aligned to the things that we wanted them to be aligned to. Are they implementable? Are they likely to lead to benefit? And then you can go on to how many people did you engage as a metric of like creating that shared ownership? So how many people did you actually engage in the change, and did you engage a high percentage of people? Did they have a good experience? So there's a bunch of metrics almost from right to left of the typical funnel that you might be thinking about in terms of success.
And if you are consistently implementing lots of ideas, ideally with some kind of trackable ROI, so that the the kind of finance bods are happy, and you're engaging a lot of people, they're having a good experience and you are onto a winner, and that's where you're going to see those benefits.
Every single customer that we work with, for example, that has achieved those metrics, and that's the vast majority, also sees an increase in employee engagement score. Also sees the transformation projects they're trying to back up, succeed.
So then it's like, “Well, how do you actually get there? What does good look like? What does bad look like? What does great look like?” I'll give you kind of a couple of tips on that, potentially with some examples.
00:28:15 Andy Goram
00:28:17 Will Read
So, I don't know if you remember Dave Lewis, the old CEO of Tesco? But he came in, in September, and I remember this was just when I was starting to work on Sideways 6, and
the front page of city AM, said, “Dave Lewis in plea to staff. Tell me how to fix Tesco.”
00:28:32 Andy Goram
00:28:34 Will Read
And he had all of the good intentions of saying, he understood that though he was leading this business now, there was insight all over it, in terms of how they could be better. And there are ideas all over it in terms of how we can better. And so, Dave Lewis said to people at Tesco. “Here's my e-mail address. Send me ideas. And let's see how we can turn this thing around.” And he gave some broad strokes in terms of context, but to be honest, not a huge amount. Now I don't have the inside scoop past that. That was obviously front page news, but I can imagine what happened from there on in. And we've heard some kind of back-channel stuff.
So first off, you get, and I know that they got kind of at least three or 4000 ideas in from the hundreds and thousands of staff. The first thing that you need to look at, is do you have a way to actually manage these ideas that is going to be manageable, that is going to be comfortable for you to deal with a large volume of... and I'm talking about a scale at this point.
00:29:35 Andy Goram
No, of course.
00:29:37 Will Read
And that the kind of way to manage them does not mean a couple of EA's being absolutely drowned in ideas about all sorts of different things, that are all in the form of E-mail. And that's probably what happened there. And so, what you need to be thinking about as one of your drivers of success, is are you able to manage these in a way that allows you to understand them, to get them to the right place? That kind of cuts down on the amount of manual work needed to actually deal with these. Because you don't want to make that promise that you're listening, and then not implement ideas. And that can be the first hurdle.
Before that, one of the things that he got right was to make it as easy as possible for employees to engage. So send me a quick e-mail. Good. Maybe you might say actually did all the frontline staff, were they comfortable with e-mail at that point? Did they have e-mail addresses? So, there might have been a blocker, but I think it was pretty easy. What you don't want to do is to lock this behind some new platform that people have to go and learn and they go to www.ideasplatform.com/tesco and they're presented with something. And before long, that flash of inspiration, that flash of engagement, they've been met with a sign on screen and then a platform they've never used before, and they just can't be bothered. And they sack it off. So that's the kind of capture thing that you need to think about. So you think about capturing, think about management?
You need to think about prioritisation. How do you actually understand what a good idea is? Have you got a set consistent way to prioritise ideas against almost a benchmark which allows you to progress them to POC (proof of concept) them, to work on them? Do you have the right people in place to prioritise them? So do you have some people who are actually subject matter experts? As obviously the narrower the challenge is, the easier this is. If you go very broad, you have to try and find those subject matter experts from across the business. And then do you have a way to prioritise them against each other? Because we all know that there's 100,000 things that we could be doing at any one time. And even if you get 100 great ideas, you need to get started with one of them. So you need to be thinking about consistent ways that you can prioritise these ideas. And we don't know how Dave did on that one. But I would assume with an E-mail inbox and such a broad topic that might have been a little bit difficult.
Then you need to think about how you're going to engage people. So, this is one where I'm thinking might have struggled a little. How do you keep people in the loop? How do you not give them that experience, that I described you could have done, but didn't with your friend, your insightful friend who had lots of ideas? How do you make sure that they understand what's happened to their idea? What people thought of their idea, whether it's going to be worked or whether it's not. And so you need to think about that engagement and communication. And ideally, you want to make that as easy as possible with things like automate where it makes sense, template where it makes sense and personalise where it makes sense. So, you need to be thinking about engagement.
And then there's a couple of other bits around, like analysis and implementation. You need to understand what people are saying on mass, and you need to actually bring ideas to life. And that's around things like resource. Do you actually have the space and the resource to work on some ideas? Have you made sure that you're working with someone who can help you bring these ideas to life? But also, around kind of technology. Are you going to stay the course? Do you have a way to track these ideas and make sure that none slip through the cracks?
And then just some other things that you need are things like a bit of perseverance. You need to be thinking about what we call the “Ideas Flywheels” which we’ve totally stolen from Jim Collins. The flywheel metrics should be bringing ideas to life. So, can you get a couple of those early wins that you can celebrate and feedback? And where it works, it works really, really well. So, a couple of examples to tell you that would be. M&S (Marks & Spencer) run, a fantastic ideas initiative. They actually, for my money, probably have the one of the oldest ideas initiatives in the UK. We've seen some amazing promotional material for these ideas and initiatives when they were first launched at Marks & Spencer, Way back when. At this point it's called “Straight To Stuart” and it's basically a campaign that's run by the CEO. And it's really heavily linked to the stage of the business that they're in. So, they have an internal name for the stage of the business they're in. They link this campaign to it. Make it super easy for employees to get engaged. They just use Microsoft Teams. That happens to be what they use. In terms of the management piece, they've got a really great structure to understand the ideas, get them to the right people. Fantastic people who are looking after the scheme. They've got clear ways to prioritise. They've got clear ways to engage people along the way. They've got clear ways to analyse and to bring those ideas to life. And everyone understands the importance of the scheme.
And what that leads to is thousands of people engaged on a monthly basis. Loads of great stories and ideas that have been brought to life and a kind of warm feeling. But also the employee engagement score increases. It leads to engagement in that stage of the company business.
So that's one that's more on the employee engagement side of things. But another example would be at Balfour Beatty, where their CEO, Leo Quinn, leads the Employee Ideas Initiative. And there it's called “My Contribution.” It feeds into their built to last strategy, again showing the importance of linking this to what the company really cares about. And there it's definitely an employee engagement initiative, but it's got some really cold, hard, ROI thanks to how they run the programme.
So, they let people know what they care about early on. They care about the things that make them a successful business - Employee experience, safety, cash in-cash out, sustainability and they make sure that each idea aligns to one of those. They're very clear paths to implementation. And they've released figures showing that kind of the ideas themselves that have been implemented, have led to over £20 million worth in cost savings. So yeah, there's some incredible examples out there.
And they broadly get those six pillars, right. They capture correctly, they manage correctly, they prioritise correctly, they engage correctly, they analyse correctly, and they implement.
00:35:46 Andy Goram
That's an important thing and it can be really complex, right? And especially at scale. Dealing with these things. So, I think those sort of 6 steps laid that out really, really nicely. I guess behind the scenes and also I guess as a consequence, we might quickly come onto some of the associated benefits here, is that this can help I guess, set the platform for psychological safety, positive feedback, all these sorts of things by getting more involvement. Because, I guess you've got to have a bit of a culture that is encouraging people to offer their ideas, to put themselves out there, right? It takes a little bit of courage to put an idea out, because it's a little bit of your soul that goes with it, right? And if it's ignored, or binned off, well, that's a little bit of your soul gone, right? And so we might not do that again. So, how important do you see the things around having a strong, psychologically safe kind of background platform to work off? And then how these companies are dealing with the feedback? Because you talk about automate and personalise where possible, but how does that really come to life?
00:36:58 Will Read
Yeah. So listen, it's our dream when some when a company comes to us and it turns out that they have an incredible culture where everybody feels absolutely psychologically safe and they all want to... everyone, there's no hesitation to sharing ideas publicly. That's brilliant. And that's going to make success a hell of a lot easier. But it's also less likely to be the case, right?
All of our companies, one thing that you learn, I'm sure you do as well, working with big organisations, is often the people within them will think that their organisations are uniquely difficult, or challenged, or broken. When actually, maybe a word of consolation, everyone thinks that, so it's OK.
00:37:39 Andy Goram
Don't give away the secrets, Will! Come on!
00:37:45 Will Read
So, typically when we start working in an organisation, there isn't perfect psychological safety. There isn't a perfect culture. There are people that feel a little bit concerned about speaking out, and that's where you've got to kind of build your beach head. You've got to find the people who are most receptive to this stuff, and you've got to run this on a smaller scale. You've got to be a little bit more targeted. You've got to kind of by hell or high water bring some of these ideas to life. And then you’ve got to shout about it and you’ve got to start turning those sceptics around. You’ve got to start building that psychological safety that says, even if previously we weren't 10 out of 10 amazing at this thing; even if previously some of your scepticism was warranted; we're doing this now. We are really listening. The ideas really get brought to life, where possible. And you too can join in. And you just start to kind of thaw the organisation, almost and make people a bit more receptive, bit by bit. And kind of using that old adage of actions speak louder than words, you prove it. You show that we are really listening. We are really, really doing it this time.
And so that's how I would go about kind of dealing with an organisation where the psychological safety is a little bit on the low side. You can get there, and this can become a catalyst for that organisational change and that cultural change. And that's amazing to see. Because, as I say, people feel close to the business. They feel more heard. And it’s more likely to go up. The other interesting things is this means that some proportion of the employees that engage become raving fans of the programme and kind of go out and spread the word. Which is a really interesting thing as well.
And on the second bit, how do you get the messaging, right? So, when we talk about automation, most of what we suggest being automated is positive or administrative. So, we all expect, if we make a purchase online, that we're going to get a confirmation e-mail. If we put an idea forwards, we want to get a confirmation message just saying, “Hey, we've got it. Here's what you can expect”, right? It allays the fear. So we can automate that away.
If an idea progresses through the pipeline, we can automate that, probably, right, because it's a positive message. It might not have got to the point where it's getting really detailed feedback just yet. We can automate that away. We can also automate things like if an idea is getting super popular on your collaboration tool, then we can just automate it. But when it comes to actually delivering some of those more sensitive messages, that's where you're going to start entering a degree of personalisation. Ideally, it's kind of templated, so you don't have to personalise everything, but you want to basically show people that they were heard. They were considered the and in a non-generic way.
So, you want to say “Look thank you for your idea. We really liked this and this about it. On this occasion we're not going to be able to prioritise it because of this, this and this.”
00:40:32 Andy Goram
And I think that's what's important. We... you have mentioned many benefits here today, including the finance one, for all the finance guys out there, of ROI and improvement and all those good things. We've talked about the push for innovation, we've talked about the whole engagement piece, which is bang on for this for this podcast. So we've got loads and loads of associated benefits.
Will, we've come to the part on the show. I like to call Sticky Notes which is where I'm going to ask you to summarise all of our discussions and consolidate your three best pieces of advice on how to bring employee ideas to life, that could fit onto 3 little sticky notes. So if you were to leave us with three top tips on how to do that, what would be on your three sticky notes, Will?
00:41:16 Will Read
I'll just start by saying I love that this is Sticky Notes, because the post-it note was an employee idea at 3M
00:41.22 Andy Goram
Yes, yes, yes!
00:41:23 Will Read
I love that and they are an incredible organisation, and that's a product that changed the world, thanks to a little bit of insight from an employee.
My three kind of bits of advice to get this right are, context. And context until you get sick of it. Just keep providing it. The long term, the short term, the medium term. What makes a good idea? What you're focused on? Keep providing that context in all the sorts of ways. Tell them, show them, reinforce it when you bring the ideas to life as to why those ideas were brought to life.
The second thing is if you do have that culture that needs thawing, be OK to start small. You don't have to start really, really big. You can build up your tribe with believers. You can go to the leader that most believes in this to start off with. You can find them, and you can start from them. And then you can gradually create the massive change that you want to. But you can start from a really small seed.
And then the third, and I'm totally stealing this. And I'm kind of obsessed with this phrase at the moment. I'm stealing it from, I think it’s Tim Ferriss, or James Clear. They had a podcast where they talked about habits, and they said one of the interesting questions to ask yourself about habits is,
“What would this look like if it was easy?”
So, if I want to achieve this goal, there's a way in which I can make this easy and there's a way in which I can make this hard. What would this look like if it was easy? So, I encourage you to think about that from your point of view of employee ideas, How can we make it easy for employees to engage? How can we make it easy for us to understand what a good idea might look like? How can we make it easier for ideas to be brought to life? And generally that means at the beginning, narrowing down the scope a little bit. It means going where the employees already are. It means finding more enthusiastic people, and then overtime, the bigger change is going to become easier.
So yeah, context until you get sick of it. Start small and think about how you can make it easy.
00:43:18 Andy Goram
Will, Perfect. Perfect sticky notes. And yes, the link to the 3M thing is just wonderful serendipity, I think, for today. Just brilliant. Will, I've really enjoyed this conversation, really insightful. I love the sort of Venn diagram model as well.
Thank you so much for coming on today. Good luck with everything you're doing. It can only have great effect, I’m sure.
00:43:40 Will Read
Thank you and thanks having us. And if anyone's interested in this stuff, we have a bunch of resources so just Google Sideways 6 and we should be able to help you out. And yeah, tell us your stories of bringing your ideas to life.
00:43:50 Andy Goram
We'll put that link in the show notes for sure, my friend, so people can kind of access your stuff.
00:43:54 Will Read
Thank you so much.
00:43:54 Andy Goram
Alright, my friend, you take care.
00:43:55 Will Read
00:43:59 Andy Goram
OK, everyone that was Will Read. And if you'd like to find out a bit more about him, or any of the topics that we've talked about on today's show, please check out the show notes.
00:44:12 Andy Goram
So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something maybe, that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forward. If you have, please like, comment, and subscribe. It really helps. I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to The Sticky From The Inside Podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.
Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.