I heard an interesting news story yesterday about innovation at a Japanese car company.
A group of their engineers is studying schools of fish to learn how the fish can move together at rapid speeds without bumping into each other. The engineers are using their observations to design warning sensors that will reduce fender benders and other minor car collisions.
Now, that’s thinking outside the box!
American companies are filled with creative thinkers, people who are always looking for ways to improve the company’s products, streamline processes and improve customer service. Most of those great ideas come from people who are closest to the issue – workers on the production line, employees serving at the counter, staff in the back offices.
Unfortunately, innovative, creative ideas get trapped at the lowest level of the org chart and never make their way up to the level where decisions are made and budgets are developed.
Right now, most companies are struggling to get back on the road to growth and prosperity. They are looking for the next great idea – the one that will spur on new growth and help differentiate them from their competitors.
For years we have known that two-way communication is important in maintaining employee morale. Most companies are familiar with, and some even have in place, an open door policy where employees are encouraged to bring problems and concerns to their managers.
But in this hyper-competitive market, two-way communications are more important than ever.
Front-line employees know where the company is wasting money, which processes are inefficient, and what the customers think about company policies and products. Managers need to find ways to gather that feedback and reward those employees who have ideas for driving business, reducing costs and improving service. In addition, they need to encourage employees to think creatively, to come up with new and innovative ways to approach the business.
Think about those Japanese auto engineers. What likely began with an idle conversation between a group of employees on their lunch break may result in one of the most radical, game-changing design to hit the automotive industry since the invention of the airbag. Without an environment of open, two-way communications, that idea would have remained in the break room, never to be heard by upper management.
Chances are, one of your employees has the next game-changing idea for your industry. Make sure he or she has an opportunity to be heard.