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From the author of Employees Say the Darndest Things

Employees Say the Darndest Things

Just like kids when their parents are not in the room, employees will often be very expressive about potential invention and innovation opportunities when they're not faced with the "best practices" that management considers to be supportive. Let's think a little more about our management goals concerning innovation and how our employees might interpret them:

  • Every idea is valuable. Yeah, right. Unless management considers the ideas to be stupid—then the employee gets branded an "uninventive, expendable asset." Better to be silent than to create the image that I'm "definitely not Einstein."
  • Everyone should take at least x hours per week to think of new ideas. Thanks a lot. I already work extremely hard at doing my job well. Now, with the "x hours per week" directive, I have to try to be something new without the chance of getting any real guidance, training, time, or money to succeed. "It's been a month—did you come up with the next 'iPad' yet?"
  • Management will be available to discuss your ideas each month. Perfect. I used to have a review every six months. Now it happens every month: "No new ideas from David this month?"
  • We want to have a 10% increase in innovative new ideas each quarter. Since I don't get to decide if my idea is truly innovative (management does), then coming up with some great ideas may actually damage my reputation (Einstein?) and not even be counted toward the 10% increase. Fabulous—I can destroy my career in two ways at the same time.
  • Follow the yellow brick road. Finally! A directive I can follow, with enough information on what constitutes success or failure! Follow the yellow road, not the red road. Let management know if I have any decision junctures where I need help. (Ask the good witch!) Avoid dying and reach Oz. Excellent, well-defined goals and processes. I can win this one!

Employees don't need cutesy management goals. They need information and goals related to the product and market. The executive team needs to explain what this "innovation stuff" is all about. What customers are we trying to reach? What market are we trying to enter? Who are our biggest competitors, and how do we really stack up against them?

Art Linkletter used to ask kids, "What did your mom tell you not to say"? And out would pop the most amazing and true stories. They would say exactly what Mr. Linkletter wanted them to say.

Ask your employees: "What are we doing that's stopping you from innovating?" Then they'll say the darndest things as well.

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