Sometimes small business owners forget they don’t have to solve every tough problem by themselves. Or, sometimes they let their ego get in the way of hearing good ideas just because they might come from employees.
Both ideas are limiting and the article below is a great example of how freeing yourself from this kind of wrong thinking can be very profitable.
As the owner you have a lot of things to do and chances are you don’t do the same day in and day out tasks your employees do. What this means is that they are probably in a better position than you are to recognize problems and solutions and new opportunities that relate to their day to day work than you are.
For example, our full time bookkeeping staff spend way more time actually doing bookkeeping than anyone else in the firm, so if they have an idea about how to do something better, faster or smarter I will listen. After all, I may be the boss but they are the ones in the trenches!
All you have to do to take advantage of their free insight is listen to them and encourage them to share. Not only will this very likely help you it will also make them feel tremendously good and empowered as employees. It’s a true win-win situation.
Not long ago I received a call from Eric, a VP of New Product Development at a mid-size industrial cleaning company.
Eric outlined his problem in urgent terms: He needed to improve his company’s flood-removal tool, fast, so it could remove more water more quickly. His company’s current technology was not cutting it, and there was a market need. Eric had gathered his team together and wracked his own brain for a solution, but no one had come up with anything truly innovative, and he needed the solution yesterday.
I suggested that Eric crowdsource within his own organization. He sent out an email blast to every employee with a personal voice message describing the problem. He followed up with a hard copy memo to every member of the company in every division, giving a two-day deadline for ideas.
This was the first time Eric had treated his company as a truly flat organization, where each employee was equally valued, and this alone generated excitement. Everyone felt involved and respected. Solving the problem would confer some serious bragging rights, but more importantly, what was good for the company was good for everyone.
Eric received a variety of suggestions from lots of employees, many of whom he ordinarily would not hear from. He immediately eliminated submissions from people who misunderstood the problem, plus some ideas that were just too “out there” (for instance, using satellite technology or hiring Navy SEALS to fix the problem underwater). Eric was beginning to get discouraged until he came to a single sheet of paper from Elise in Accounting. The top half of the paper had a unique idea for re-tooling the company’s existing machinery, and the bottom half had a drawing showing how it might be done.
Starting with Elise’s concept, Eric’s engineers were able to create specialized pumps, and then get them to a client in need rapidly. And the client never knew how close Eric had been to failure. With this issue, he was able to get a product idea from a source who never would have otherwise been involved.