Most people do not write well. They have good ideas but do not get the opportunity to express them very often. When you receive written ideas from your employees, appoint a committee or a couple of select people to talk to the participants who submitted ideas. Have them interview the employees to expand on those ideas.
Initial suggestions are poorly written, lack detail but are potentially very powerful if analyzed. At first glance, you will get many lousy unworkable answers. The reason this happens is that most people do not express themselves well. You read the suggestion and do not immediately see a gem sitting there with real potential. This is the reason you need to talk to the employee and pull more information out of their original concept.
Ask objective questions about the proposed idea to get good positive feedback.
- How did you see your idea implemented?
- Who would implement your idea the best? How would they do it and when?
- Do you see your idea taking a lot of time or effort?
- How did you think the company could save money doing this?
- What benefits would be derived from starting your idea tomorrow?
- Who in the plant would you suggest do this?
- Would another person have to be hired, or, does your idea cut labor costs?
- If this cuts labor costs, how many hours per week does this eliminate?
- How would this new procedure, new product, new regulation or new part number work?
- Where do you think this equipment should be installed?
- Do you have an idea what this device looks like?
- Why do you think this new item or procedure would help or improve the product or the process?
Interview the employee to fully understand what he was trying to convey. When you do this, you get him interested in the answer and the ultimate solution. You also may get an answer that will save your firm $100,000 per year. (i.e. The person who recognized a laboratory failure realized that applying this sticky gooey mistake on the back of small pieces of paper would allow them to be stuck on the wall or surface, thus the birth of the post-it note.)
Review all suggestions and talk to each employee. You will not know until you begin the program so methodically read each and every suggestion and keep an open mind.
Call every person who provided a suggestion and talk to them about their idea. They may not have expressed it well on paper but may indeed have a potentially great idea.
Be picky about who speaks with employees. Make sure you are careful in selecting the people to speak with your employees; they need to be creative and open-minded or they will work against you projecting a negative attitude during the interviews.
Do not use supervisors. Do not use their supervisor regardless of how easy you think this may be to do. These employees do not want to talk to their supervisors only to have the discussion taint their relationship later during work. Many times, third party independent personnel are good because they have no preconceived ideas working at odds against new ideas.
Perform a second review of all suggestions after the first round is finished. Do not restrict the review of ideas to only one or two people. Run them through another group of employees who work in entirely different parts of the company. Get different perspectives.
Paying attention to employees is worth the effort. You are doing yourself a great service, talking to employees five minutes because they are being regarded as important and that is not done often enough. As a side benefit, you may also get some great ideas for the company.