Written by Simon Hill, MD and Co-founder, Wazoku
Thursday, 06 October 2011 11:54
Ensuring that new ideas find their way to the right people to get noticed.
A recent report predicted that by 2020, the amount of SMEs in the UK will increase by around 20 per cent, meaning there will be almost 6 million in just eight or nine years time.
Whilst SMEs are rightly seen as the engine of any strong economy, the sheer increase in volume means that they will need to differentiate and position themselves correctly to survive and thrive. One of the key ways of differentiating oneself from the competition is by innovation - devising new products, services and ways of doing business that enable a business to stay ahead of the game.
Yet most business’ innovation and creativity tends to come from a small group of people that have a specific responsibility for that, often in marketing. Surely anyone can come up with an idea that can have a genuine and positive impact on a business, but what is the best way of capturing those ideas and ensuring they find their way to the right people to get noticed?
The suggestion box
The traditional way of capturing ideas was the good old suggestion box. Employees wrote their idea on a piece of paper - signed it, or not - and placed it in the suggestion box, which could have been a black hole for all the good it did. Sometimes an idea might get discussed but more often it wouldn’t and the suggestion box only really served as a way of making employees feel included and that they were making a contribution.
As email became a common communications tool in the workplace this too began to be used to discuss ideas. But its limitations were soon apparent - it was very static, had no real way of developing an idea and the constant emails could be hugely intrusive.
Such methods only worked in a very basic way and there was rarely a specific way of ensuring that the people that would sign-off an idea would even get to see it. Would an MD really check the contents of suggestion box? Would an employee feel comfortable emailing senior management with an idea on how to improve marketing?
Creativity and innovation are not and should not, be restricted only to those whose job involves creative thinking. Of course marketing departments will come up with a stream of ideas but people all across a business will have thoughts on how to save costs, name a new product or improve any part of a business’ operations.
The key is to foster a culture of ideas and innovation - encourage people to submit ideas and ensure they know there is a specific place for those ideas to be heard, discussed, developed and actually brought to fruition. A place where peers and people in the business can provide feedback on an idea and where you know that the MD will get to see it.
Big business has been using such services - known as idea management for years - but until now idea management has been too expensive for SMEs to consider, with prices typically beginning at around £30K per year. But in 2010 IT analyst firm Gartner predicted that idea management will be a part of the mainstream within two and five years so prices have been beginning to come down as businesses make offerings that target SMEs directly.
Innovation is increasingly important for SMEs in particular to maintain market position and to be seen as a leader in their industry. There is creativity and ideas within most businesses but the tools for capturing and developing them have not been effective.
Suggestion boxes are archaic and ideas sit there, unread and unused, whilst using email or an intranet is too static. Using specific tools can make people more comfortable with suggesting ideas and help those ideas evolve and develop into something with the potential to impact a business.
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