The managers of two different groups I worked with recently both feared that their employees wouldn’t contribute ideas and that the session would be a dud. As it turned out one group identified 36 opportunities for improvement and the other 20 ideas. The opportunities for efficiency and customer impact were very high. The managers were surprised that they hadn’t been aware of some of the issues before they came out during the session.
Most of the frustrations were system based – either IT systems or the procedures that governed day-to-day work processes. Staff identified numerous situations where double or triple entry of redundant information were required. Employees simply accepted that this was part of their job. The manager saw something completely different – by reducing duplication it would create extra capacity to handle more work.
Managers mistakenly think that staff are against streamlining workflow. In reality employees find time consuming workarounds painful but tend to accept them as unchangeable.
Another potential road block or bottleneck in the process occurs when management thinks that they have to do all the analysis, prioritization and follow-up. Instead of taking the list away from the group, empower the team to sort the ideas themselves using criteria that management would use. Then have small working groups go and meet with IT or other departments to see how to get the improvement implemented.
Employees will be more likely to buy into change if they have had input into designing the solution.
How to unleash the power of innovation in your department:
- Schedule a launch session (typically 1 to 2 hours is the right amount of time)
- Give people a few minutes to think of the things that frustrate them about the existing workflow. What are the “someday we should…” items that we never seem to have the time to address? (In some cases giving employees a heads-up in advance gives them time to think about the potential improvements)
- Ask people to share their ideas (Set some ground rules like expressing ideas in a constructive vs criticizing way)
- Group the ideas under common themes (This can be done in the launch session or done in a follow-on meeting or posted in the department)
- Apply criteria to identify the few projects that should be tackled first (Criteria could include ease of implementation, amount of investment, involvement of other departments and magnitude of impact/payback)
- Apply the 80/20 rule (Which items on the list would give the greatest bang for the buck?)
- Form small groups of people who are interested in solving the problem.
- Share the success and select the next opportunity.
Using an outside consultant can help the process. My role was to introduce the concept and get the brainstorming underway. You can certainly do this without outside help but both managers appreciated having a neutral facilitator assist with the process.
Chances are you and your team are so busy taking care of day-to-day business that you haven’t stepped back to see the opportunities to reduce waste, streamline processes and remove frustrations. Getting your team involved not only generates operational savings, it empowers employees to have a say and feel a sense of accomplishment. Contact us to see how we can help.