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It’s quite common these days for organisations to have an ideas submission platform, or something similar to collect ideas from around the organisation. Now if your organisation has one of these platforms in place, then you’ll know that all ideas aren’t made equal – some are great, while others leave a little to be desired.

So how do you harness the enthusiasm of employees who want to contribute, but aren’t quite hitting the mark in terms of the quality of ideas? And how can you make sure that your ideas submission platform isn’t overrun by “we should get 3-ply toilet paper” or “let’s have fruit baskets for each office” types of ideas?

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when encouraging and optimising innovation driven by employees…

Get people talking early
It’s important to offer people support with their ideas before they formally submit them, otherwise how will they know what to do to make their submission great? Make sure that employees know who they can turn to for help, and ensure these peers show them what kinds of innovations you’re after, where they should be focusing their efforts, and what to include in their submission. Give people the opportunity to improve their ideas!

Fall in love with the opportunity, not the idea
It happens all the time – people fall in love with their ideas. And although this passion is fantastic, this can lead to certain kinds of undesirable behaviours. When people fall in love with their idea, they become rigid and fixed on proving that it will work. They are less open to feedback or iterating their idea, and can feel that constructive feedback is a personal attack. So when people approach you with their ideas, understand this and help them get excited about the problem or opportunity that their idea is trying to solve. Show them that there’s bigger fish to fry and turn their idea into an aspirational opportunity for the organisation to solve.

Give great feedback
Now this seems obvious, but believe me, it’s harder than you might think! Practice makes perfect and if you keep the following four tips in mind, you’ll make sure that you’re channelling employees’ enthusiasm the right way:

  • Provide timely feedback. Remember that people have spent their precious time and energy putting their submission together. Respect this and provide them with feedback as soon as possible.
  • Come from a place of support. Put yourself in their shoes and get yourself in the right mindset to provide positive feedback. Remember that you’re there to help, encourage, guide and educate them.
  • Be specific. Specific feedback is better and more helpful if they want to re-submit their idea down the track. Let their submission form and details guide your feedback discussion.
  • Use encouraging phrases. Language is a very powerful thing and shouldn’t be underestimated. Realise that our natural default is to use negative language such as “I don’t think…” and “You shouldn’t…”. Be conscious of this and move to using encouraging language such as “What if we tried…” and “Have you considered…”.