David D'Souza, Head of London at the CIPD and blogger on progressive HR and business practice, explains how SMEs can get their people thinking
Why are some work environments not conducive to new ideas?
David D'Souza (DD): "Some rely on ‘tried and tested' methods, but these may no longer be the best way. Typically, with micro businesses, the owner has done things their way to establish and grow the business, and they're reluctant to change. Some working environments are fast-paced, with new ideas seen as slowing things down unnecessarily. In the worst cases, new ideas are seen as a threat."
Could some small businesses be missing a trick?
DD: "Of course. New ideas should be viewed as things that can deliver more success. Without new ideas, businesses can become stale and opportunities can be missed. Organisations must evolve - you can't stand still. New ideas enable progress. If you don't encourage your people to think of new ideas, you won't get the best out of them. Even seemingly small ideas can make a huge difference."
Are employees often best placed to come up with new products, services and ways of working?
DD: "Indeed they are, especially if they come into direct contact with customers, which can inspire them to think of better ways to meet customer needs. In other cases, a staff member might suggest a way to make a process or practice more efficient or successful."
Why do some employees feel they can't suggest their ideas?
DD: "It can be a problem with business culture; they or others may have suggested perfectly good ideas previously which have been ignored or dismissed. Perhaps they haven't been thanked, recognised or rewarded for past ideas, so they're reluctant to contribute any others. There might not be a way for them to suggest their ideas. There are many reasons..."
What can be the consequences?
DD: "Few more things are more frustrating than thinking that your ideas are not welcome or valued. It's highly demotivating, which can damage productivity and lessen someone's contribution to the business. Soon they can get fed up and start looking for a new employer who will value their ideas. Once people suggest new ideas and they're recognised and rewarded for them, they'll want to come up with more, which can motivate others too."
How can small businesses encourage their employees to contribute new ideas?
DD: "You have to have or create the right culture first. Then people need a way to communicate their new or alternative ideas. Staff suggestion schemes can work really well.
"Less formally, it could simply be that your people know you welcome new ideas and they can come to you to make suggestions any time. Owners and managers should give over more time to having informal chats with staff, as this can often be a good way to identify problems and solutions. Setting time aside in staff meetings to discuss new ideas can be really good. People might need to be able to work on developing new ideas, by themselves and with others."
Is collaboration to be encouraged?
DD: "Absolutely. Groups of people are often able to come up with much better ideas. They need enough time and a way to do that, and technology can help, through collaborative software, for example. Being able to bounce your ideas off others and work with them can result in much better ideas."
Should employees get bonuses for coming up with new ideas?
DD: "If the business can afford it and it brings great rewards, then yes, why not? Feeling rewarded is important, but as I've said, thanks and recognition are important, too. And there's nothing worse than someone else taking the credit for your idea. Business owners and managers should shout very loudly when their staff come up with great new ideas - it encourages more of the same. Success in business is driven by new ideas, big and small, but they have to be encouraged. Use all of the brainpower you have at your disposal."
- The CIPD is the professional body for HR and people development. The not-for-profit organisation "champions better work and working lives and has been setting the benchmark for excellence in people and organisation development for more than 100 years".
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