More than Ideas
Project Managers Can Provide a Structure That Turns Employees Innovative Suggestions into Business
By Susanne Galanek, PMP
A department at my organization began a program in 2018 to encourage employees to submit ideas for generating new business, improving the customer experience or motivating our workforce. The Brilliance Campaign focused on creating a safe and engaging environment that would help transform ideas into executable initiatives. Although the journey had its up and downs, it generated a wealth of innovation because project management provided a framework for nearly every step of the process.
Staff from the project management office (PMO) implemented meeting techniques and suggestions for communicating with the whole department about the campaign. The PMO then helped the idea creator prepare for a presentation to senior management to gain idea approval. The PMO also helped the organizing committee generate processes for soliciting ideas and rewarding those who dared to respond. Finally, once an idea was approved by senior management, a project manager was assigned to help move it into an understandable flow of work packages.
To get employees to go all-in on the campaign, the PMO developed a process that stressed regular communication and guidance and provided time for people to explore and workshop their ideas. The campaign had a robust communications plan with open houses, a steering committee, newsletters, key performance indicators (KPIs) and team recognition, even for failures.
The department worked hard to remind employees that the new program was no outlier—it was now part of the culture. At launch, the department gave each employee a mouse pad with campaign credos:
- Challenge the status quo—Be bold and lead.
- Don't be afraid to fail—The biggest risk is not taking any risk.
- Self-awareness—Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
- Say “I don't know—but I will find out.”
- Team—Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships.
IMPLEMENTING A CAMPAIGN
Here are tips I recommend for other organizations looking to get employee innovation campaigns started:
1. Kick off with an emphasis on a safe and encouraging workplace. An environment that embraces failure will also encourage valuable ideas. People need to know that they have a team behind them to support the experimentation.
2. Provide a portal for submitting ideas and for giving timely recognition and updates.
3. Create a form or checklist with open-ended questions to help innovators think outside the box.
4. Have a review board or program office to provide feedback and positive reinforcement.
5. Appoint a committee or a mentor to assist in the initial idea presentation to senior management.
6. Assign a project manager if the idea needs resources, funding or organizational communication.
7. Track up-to-date KPIs on the program to report successes or issues.
It's an amazing feeling for project managers to help someone turn an idea into a project that improves a company's culture, workday or profitability. Employees feel more connected to their organization. They bring a better mood and more energy to their work each day—and creative possibilities begin to open up. PM
|Susanne Galanek, PMP, is head of the PMO at Verisk Analytics, Jersey City, New Jersey, USA.|