How to create a safe space for your team to share ideas

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Written by Julia Shalet on 6 January 2021 in Features
Features

Empowerent and failure are all part of the ideation process, says Julia Shalet.

If you are reading this article, then you already know that new, good ideas are what keeps our organisations on top of their game. Good ideas will keep us ahead in the market, help us operate more efficiently and keep the workforce engaged and happy. 

But you also know that there can be a reluctance for people to share ideas. Why? Maybe people are afraid of failure. Or maybe it’s too much effort to push a new idea forward. Perhaps the decision makers are a bunch of naysayers.

  • Empower people to find out if their idea is a really good one

Lack of confidence is a main reason for not proposing a new idea. How does someone know if their idea is good or not? Well, the main reason for new initiatives to fail is that there are assumptions being made about how people feel, think and are going to behave.

So, the starting point is to check that the problems, needs and desires that they think exist, really do and that the existing solutions could be improved upon. The only way to find this out for real is by carrying out some light touch research conversations with those people directly. There’s nothing like hearing it from the horse’s mouth.

So the premise here is to empower people to carry out their own really early idea testing, before asking for any real budget (beyond perhaps a small thank-you payment for those people who are interviewed). Then if the idea flies in this early research test, your employee will have the confidence to share it. 

  • Reinforce that failure is a necessary part of innovation

No one wants to be branded a failure, a loser, a waster of time and energy. So it is easier to keep quiet than to pipe up and say that you have an idea. We need to change how we perceive failure.

There are so many quotes from leading and successful innovators about this. That failure is the most important part of innovation; that if things aren't failing you're not innovating enough; that the fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate and as Thomas Edison famously said “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

Failing is part of learning. Through every failure, we learn more and as long as those insights are shared across the business, we will get there in the end. And, if we are not there yet, then it is not the end.

The expectation is that many ideas will fail, but as we learn we will improve and figure out what will work. Testing out ideas very early on makes a lot of sense - find out if problems, needs and desires exist, quickly, before making any investment. 

The communication around this is paramount, that failure is a necessary part of learning, but let’s do that quickly, early on and before we invest. Test before you invest.

  • Ring fence a small fund to support new ideas

What better way to show that good ideas can move forward than to create a small fund that is ring fenced to support these early explorations? Imagine a simple process to access funding, where the questions being asked by the gatekeepers are appropriate to the early stage.

Why would you ask for a full business case when we are just at the point of checking that the problems and needs actually exist? 

Some companies call this an 'innovation fund'. I have seen companies set up innovation 'accelerator'-type programs, bring in expensive innovation consultants to help them and run innovation competitions, but I believe that the best thing is to make this a part of daily life.

Anyone can bid for some small funding to progress their idea as long as it fits with the shared strategy and that they have early evidence that it is a good idea. If all your teams are empowered and enabled, this becomes part of the fabric of your organisation. 

It is vital to be transparent about how those decisions are made. I have helped organisations to put these sorts of internal light-touch processes in place and teams really value knowing what evidence they need to provide.

It feels less like going into the lion’s den and more like a supportive environment where everyone is trying to work together to fund the best opportunities. 

 

Sharing ideas needs to be something that we do naturally in our day jobs as we all want to improve our business. Our teams need to get used to carrying out early validation of their ideas - quickly, easily and cheaply. They need to see that good ideas with the right evidence behind them can move forward, they are not just something to talk about.

The conversation to have is not 'What if...' but 'What now...'

 

About the author

Julia Shalet is author of new book, The Really Good Idea Test, published by Pearson. Find out more about Julia at productdoctor.co.uk.

 

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