Published: 13/05/2004, Volume II4, No. 5905 Page 36

Good ideas can be lost if the right systems are not in place to nurture them, says Ruth Spellman

Employers are increasingly keen to encourage suggestions from employees on how to improve systems or services, to free ideas from the front line.Here are some steps that managers can take to help promote greater participation from employees.

Make ideas welcome Have you really done all you can to show employees that their contribution is needed? Have you asked them for their views on key issues or sought their input on how to tackle problems that affect them? You can never assume that employees feel comfortable raising ideas, so take every opportunity to emphasise that their input is valued.

Small ideas may be more fruitful Sometimes small amendments to working practices can have a bigger impact on the organisation than 'set piece' change.Consider how you can stimulate suggestions on small steps that could create a larger cumulative effect.

Encourage and incentivise Keep encouraging your employees: research exercises, formal suggestion schemes, employee panels, question and answer sessions and 'brown bag' lunches with senior management could all play a part in gaining feedback.You might want to consider incentives for useful ideas.

Manage expectations Make sure employees understand what you are looking for their input on, how ideas will be evaluated and what will happen next.Ensure that any areas not up for discussion are also made clear.

Capture everything Create a system for recording every idea you receive so you can develop a central bank.But do not keep these ideas to yourself - share the learning: they could help other parts of the organisation.

Show courtesy and commitment Make sure that each employee who submits an idea receives a personal response to thank them for their time.Give them a timescale in which their contribution will be considered and commit to responding to them with feedback.

Demonstrate the difference If an idea has made a difference, if you can show the impact feedback has made, make sure you communicate this more widely.Celebrate that success.

Ruth Spellman is chief executive of Investors in People (UK).