Input From Employees

Modern Business: Brainstorming - Image by Kevin Dooley
Getting employee input in a brainstorming session – Image by Kevin Dooley

As the saying goes, “Cream rises to the top.” However, before you start the process of separating the cream from the rest of the milk, the cream is mixed into the milk. The same could be said about ideas to improve your business. Eventually, you want the best ideas to rise to a level where they can be implemented. But, before that can happen, those ideas are trapped in the minds of the employees, from the CEO all the way down to the unpaid interns.

The Peter Principle – When Your Boss Knew Something About Your Job

As the 1960s turned into the 1970s, the principle of promotion was known as “The Peter Principle.” The idea is that when an employee does their job well, they get promoted. Management skills such as conflict resolution, scheduling, or budgeting were not necessary. As a result, you had people in management who might not be the best managers, but they at least understood the processes the employees below them were using. As a result, the newly promoted managers might change things to make the processes work better, because they’re aware of what doesn’t work at the time. Eventually, a shift was made and companies began to hire or promote people with management skills. This was both a blessing and a curse. Managers now had the skills to deal with conflicts, set budgets, and define schedules. However, they probably didn’t understand what the employees were doing in detail on a daily basis.

Consultants collect input. Employees feel resent.

Since managers didn’t have the first-hand experience that they used to during the Peter Principle days, they had to find a way to understand what was happening with the employees they were managing. This is where consulting came into the picture. Management would hire a consultant. The consultant, who probably didn’t understand the daily details of the employees at the time he was hired, would visit the employees and get their input. The consultant would then collect and summarize this employee input and give it to management. Management would praise the consultant for his good ideas, cut him a nice check for his work, and parrot the employees’ ideas back to them. As you might imagine, this does not make for happy and fulfilled employees.

Cut out the middleman. Get the input from the employees yourself.

Go into any business anywhere and ask an employee, “Tell me something about your job that you think could be done differently. It could save time, reduce steps, add value, or be simplified. What have you got?” and you’ll get answers. Employees find ways to work around the minor annoyances in their jobs. But, if given the opportunity to have things change, they would gladly speak up if given the chance.

I know being in the small company where I work, I’m lucky. An off-the-cuff idea mentioned on a drive home from a trade show can turn into an experiment to see if it would work within a week. In larger companies, this culture of soliciting input from employees, or employees feeling like they can offer input might need some work. If a $100 gift card as an incentive can extract an idea from an employee that saves your company $1000 a year, why would you not solicit some input from the people who know what needs changed and how to change it?