Sunday’s Dilbert strip presented a scene where the Pointy Haired Boss asks Dilbert and his colleague for big huge ideas.
The response is predictable.
The problem isn’t a lack of ideas, but a lack of trust and a lack of alignment.
I see similar challenges in our Kaizen work. If a hospital or a factory asks employees for big huge ideas. The scale is usually more along the lines of a “million dollar idea.”
Who has big huge ideas?
There are usually lots of ideas in an organization, but not many million dollar ideas.
People freeze up when they’re asked to think big. That’s why it’s often more effective to ask people to start with SMALL ideas. We can generate lots and lots of ideas and make many small improvements… then we might stumble into a large idea (or a small idea that has a surprisingly big impact).
It’s less intimidating to think of an idea that saves a few seconds here and there, an idea that makes things safer for the patients.
We’ll occasionally discover a million dollar idea… but we tend to get more of them if we don’t ask for million dollar ideas. It’s sort of counterintuitive.
Then, there’s the issue of fairness. Dilbert and his employees realize it would be better for them to take a billion dollar idea and go start their own company. If you do contribute a million dollar idea, should the organization reward you for that or is that just part of your job to contribute to the greater good of the organization? Suggestion box systems have nearly always broken down when a percentage of cost savings was promised on a quid pro quo basis… the bonus sounds fair, but leads to a lot of fighting and dysfunction. There are many pros and cons to rewards, incentives, and bonuses.
Paying nothing probably isn’t fair – most organizations have processes for spot bonuses and other special recognition. But that’s different than promising X% of any cost savings.
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