Friday, May 1, 2009

Obama's Suggestion Box

In his address to the nation Saturday, President Obama mentioned that he is going to reach out to federal employees to capture and implement their ideas for improvement. "We'll establish a process through which every government worker can submit their ideas for how their agency can save money and perform better," he says.

Now, we have all seen lots of suggestion programs come and go, so naturally many commentators and observers are skeptical (, but all suggestion programs are not doomed to failure.

First I would give President Obama praise for seeking to get the ideas of those employees on the front lines. This is becoming more important every day because of demographic changes in our country. In our book "Ordinary Greatness," Pam Bilbrey and I point out that the latest generation of employees (sometimes called Generation Y) has been engaged in decision-making within their families and schools in ways vastly different than previous generations. Children now have a significant say in most key family decisions, such as which house to purchase, which car to buy, and where the family will vacation. Generation Y is bringing this desire for involvement into the workplace, and leaders who feel they can continue to manage as they always have will be shocked when they not only fail to see greatness in their staff, but when they see management habits that worked in the past, such as maintaining secrets, playing politics, and promoting factions cause their personal and professional demise. Our survival depends on engaging our staff and getting their best ideas.

When establishing employee suggestion programs, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Have a process for tracking and monitoring ideas, preferably electronically. Nothing destroys employee engagement faster than having ideas they submit get lost in the shuffle. If you haven’t been staying in touch with your staff and letting them know if or when their ideas will be acted upon, good luck getting staff to let you know their best ideas.

2. Be sure managers are engaged, accountable, and accessible throughout the process. When implementing his plan, President Obama must insist that leaders harvest ideas from staff and follow through on them. If their salary increases and promotional opportunities are not tied into their ability to engage their people, the plan has little chance for success. Managers must have goals tied to employee participation in the effort, and should constantly ask staff, "Do you know of any way we can improve our service or eliminate waste?"

3. Recognize the positive. Tell stories of how much the ideas have saved or how many wasteful processes have been eliminated. People remember stories long after they have forgotten facts. Keep the most positive people engaged by thanking them for their ideas and telling others how their ideas improved the workplace or the customer's experience.

4. Really mean it. If you aren't sincere about respectfully listening to staff and implementing their best ideas, don't start a suggestion effort. Staff can spot a phony flavor-of-the-month program, they will most likely ignore it, and leadership loses more credibility.

It's nice to see that with everything that President Obama has on his plate he is acknowledging a desire to listen to those closest to the taxpayers every day. Let's hope those who install the effort pay attention to these guidelines too.

No comments:

Post a Comment