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Why and how leaders should foster bottom-up ideas


The best ideas don’t always come from upper management, sometimes it is the bottom-up ideas that can help put a company on top.

Whether the next great bottom-up idea will make a positive impact on your company’s bottom line may depend on what procedures are in place to communicate such suggestions.

Ideas from the bottom can sometimes be lost, especially if no process is in place to facilitate communication from all levels of an organization.

If that next great idea is destined to spring from the lower levels of your organization, can you be sure it will reach the proper destination?

Here are five strategies to take to make certain bottom-up ideas can rise to the top:

1. Have the right process in place

If you don’t have somebody assigned to respond to suggestions, typically an executive or a person in a management or supervisory role, it can be harder to facilitate conversations that will keep ideas moving up the chain of command.

Having a point person will minimize costs of the program and avoid possible redundancies or confusion that might occur with multiple persons involved. This person can then prioritize the ideas and steer them to the appropriate departments.

Without an established process, ideas from the lower levels of an organization can get lost. Employees may think, “I have this idea, but I don’t know who to turn to.” If your company has a hierarchical top-down structure, it might be difficult or intimidating for some employees to proceed.

A company culture that supports bottom-to-top ideas and innovations from front-line employees can help facilitate the process for the good of the organization.

2. Seek feedback from the front lines

Suggestion boxes are a common, easy step many companies have in place. If you’re looking to solve a problem or cultivate ideas from a larger collective, it is best to seek out the advice and not just wait for it to come to you.

Management may be removed from the issues at lower levels and may not fully understand the people, processes or technology involved. By taking the time to seek out and place value upon employee input, you begin to foster an environment that openly encourages suggestions and ideas that move the company forward.

When solving a problem, cast a wide net. Increasing the diversity of the talent you ask for help will only increase your chances of receiving an innovative solution.

Be proactive in encouraging more engagement and ideas from employees. Communicate that they should speak up if they see something that needs to be addressed and that an open-door policy exists for constructive ideas and suggestions.

3. Be a good listener

While you want to hear all the ideas that spring from the organization, it’s impractical to implement every suggestion.

It’s important for employees to understand that their ideas are being taken seriously even if they are not implemented. Offer appreciation for their effort in problem solving and moving the company forward.

If employees think their suggested ideas are being pigeonholed or ignored, then the process won’t work.

It is not a bad thing if the idea isn’t used, but you have to manage that two-way feedback mechanism, so it doesn’t feel like you’re not listening.

It’s a fine balance, but if you empower people, they will be more apt to utilize the system to the company’s advantage. And if a company doesn’t truly support empowerment it will most likely have a difficult time cultivating innovative ideas from its employees.

4. Make it part of the culture

There will be turnover within any organization over time, which makes it important to make sure the process that facilitates bottom-up ideas remains in place.

The process should become a function of the culture. It needs to be integrated within the organization and built into the support system. If it becomes part of the culture of the organization, then that process will stay in place through the inevitable transitions.

If it is ingrained, the process is less likely to become isolated. As part of the norm, it can sustain the process and keep innovative ideas flowing and enhancing the company’s prospects.

Google, for example, is very proactive in soliciting ideas from across its 30,000-plus workforce. Employees are encouraged to interact with management within or outside their specific areas of expertise if they have ideas or suggestions. The system has produced positive changes for the company and has been expanded in recent years as a result of that success. Google also offers rewards for successful ideas.

5. Be prepared for setbacks

Sometimes ideas coming from lower levels of the organization can backfire.

What may seem initially promising may later prove to be unfeasible. For example, the costs of implementing the idea turn out to be much more than originally estimated, then you have wasted resources.

Or an idea that works in the short term but ultimately doesn’t align with the company’s long-term goals may have to be scrapped.

Not every idea is going to pan out, but a successful company will learn from mistakes and continue to encourage innovation, empowerment and bottom-up ideas.

Potential of big benefits at a small cost

With the right program in place to encourage bottom-up ideas your company can find ways to solve problems, cut costs, improve productivity and foster improved morale among employees who may otherwise feel isolated from the company’s big picture.

Employees already have a stake in the company’s future. Further empowering them and encouraging greater involvement can help the company grow.

And that is good for your business.

It’s proven that companies that listen to their employees tend to have happier, more productive employees. That often translates into higher profits for the company. If you’d like to know what else goes into a healthy company culture (and the benefits that go along with that), download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to company culture.