This is a question that our Customer Success and Innovation Consultant Teams are asked on a regular basis.  New customers often have the very clear vision that empowering the workforce to continuously improve and innovate will be key to successful organisational transformation and sustainability (they have just invested in software for that purpose after all). They can, however, be unsure where to look for inspiration on what are likely to be the highest priority areas of focus for maximum engagement & impact.  For us, there are some places we often point them to:

  • Are there any key objectives in the strategic plan that they do not currently don’t know how to solve?
  • Are there any recurring red KPIs on the Senior Management Team’s scorecard/dashboard that never seem to get resolved?
  • Is there feedback from staff that would point the Senior Management Team to the organisation’s most burning issues and exciting opportunities?

The first couple of pointers above might seem obvious (though surprisingly this isn’t always the case!), however the final point (staff feedback) is often treated like the forgotten child.  Few organisations have much in the way of feedback from staff that reliably points them to the areas that should be of primary focus – surprising given that those employees often working on the front line or at the heart of the operation are better placed than anyone to alert the organisation to an growing or even urgent need for change.

The annual employee survey can play a role – it offers a welcome  opportunity for employees to get their voice heard – but suffers from the ‘snapshot in time’ issue associated with any scheduled survey:  what may have been an issue then may not be now, and what wasn’t then may now be.  

Transforming in real-time

The key to successfully launching an employee-driven change programme that will succeed in the long-term is to build a tangible sense of empowerment amongst employees.  Unlocking that sense of empowerment requires that the entire workforce is given the opportunity to ‘intervene’ on issues that are important to them, in their day-job, right now.   Not tomorrow, or the day after, next week or worse next month or next year.

One of the biggest challenges of giving everyone an ‘individual’ opportunity to intervene of course is that no organisation would have the bandwidth to evaluate all input from across the workforce.  This is often where we see idea crowdsourcing platforms playing a role – through the launch of very specific strategic initiatives to solve key challenges that have already been identified, with an invitation to the workforce to submit their proposed ideas and solutions.  That’s all well and good, but what about the issues that are lurking in the shadows, or the (often substantial) opportunities for increased productivity that are steamrollered by other priorities.   How can these be identified and turned into idea crowdsourcing initiatives and meaningful outcomes that deliver real ROI for the organisation?

Opening Empowerment Channels

As organisational leaders, we need to start looking further back to the beginning of the engagement lifecycle to understand where empowerment can start.  Just like in any democratic society, empowered people in an organisation should be able to use their collective voice to raise early-warnings that trigger action.  In a democratic society, there are many channels for this, together with sufficiently large numbers of people who are so heavily invested in their viewpoints around current affairs that the opportunities to raise that early warning and trigger local, regional or country level debate (and hopefully change) are ubiquitous.  

In most organisations, these channels seldom exist.  If I, as an employee, really feel strongly about something today, where do I go to add enough collective weight to that viewpoint that the organisation’s leaders will be become aware of it?  And even if there was such a channel, how do I add that weight locally (for things that affect my team), regionally (for things that affect my division) and centrally (for things that affect the whole organisation)?   And assuming there was such an opportunity at each of these levels, how can I be sure that the organisation has the structure in place to be alerted to, understand and act on that information to mark the start of a change initiative?

How might we then, as organisational leaders, look to achieve this?  Employee Pulse solutions, implemented to their full potential, can provide an extremely effective channel for empowered, collective voices to be heard, and for triggering appropriate preventative, corrective or  improvement action to be taken where trends are identified or urgent issues rear their heads. Employee Pulse solutions enable the organisation’s leaders, at any level, to create an ‘always-on’ platform that is primed with a collection of segmented questions and topics that are appropriate to each part of the organisation – available to employees on their desktop, mobile or other device at the exact point in time when the frustration or disappointment around a current or new issue, or the excitement or eagerness about a new emerging opportunity hits them.   Effective tend reporting and alerting from threshold breaches then act as the early warning alert for management to do something about it.

In conclusion, although the already known priorities on the strategic plan and the recurring red KPIs on the balanced scorecard are important areas that should lead to employee empowerment through idea crowdsourcing initiatives, as a starting point to change they are often very distant to many employees and difficult for them to get excited about.  What they will get excited about is the organisation recognising where there is an issue or an opportunity that directly affects their place and well-being at work and doing something about it.

In the next piece in this series, we will look at taking this information of where we should focus our employee-driven innovation efforts and look at the why do we need to focus our efforts in these areas.