20 Keys

There is always a way to innovate

There is always a way to innovate yet there are many myths surrounding innovations and ideas for operations improvement in organisations.

The 6th and last myth in our series of Myths vs Reality is: “An informal approach for getting ideas for improvement works best, with managers promoting big ideas, because small ones aren’t worth the time.”

The reality is without a formal process for handling ideas, managers and employees face the challenge of figuring out how to deal with each idea that comes up. A simple and easy to use system for getting, recording, evaluating, supporting, tracking and giving recognition is most effective, and consistently leads to more ideas. Small ideas enable companies to pay exceptional attention to detail, which is the requisite for true excellence. They also have a big, cumulative impact, and are often the best source for big ideas.


Getting ideas for improvement is often the challenging part. Thinking about the immediate workplace, and day-to-day tasks and problems being experienced, should be actively encouraged. Whilst there are many ways in which ideas for improvement can be promoted, we list some simple tips for getting started below.

  • Just ask. Ask employees to come to meetings with one small idea that will make their work easier, or help the company in some way. Ask people to present their ideas, then invite the group to discuss and build upon them. If an idea is worthwhile, come to an agreement on who will be responsible for making it happen.
  • Pick up on problems. Ideas arise when people encounter problems. Ask employees to single out what makes their work difficult; from procedures that waste time or money, to policies that disappoint customers. Then work toward solutions.
  • Turn complaints into opportunities. When an employee complains about something, look for the underlying issue or problem. Turn gripes into opportunities by asking for ideas that will tackle the gripes.
  • Seek ideas at times of change. When a change is announced or anticipated, encourage employees to look for emerging problems and opportunities, and to offer ideas that will address them.
  • Follow through. Follow through in some way on every single idea, without exception. Keep track of ideas as they come in with a simple, visual system. Remember that the best reward for people is to see their ideas in action.
  • Create heroes. Recognize people for their ideas. Ensure that employees get full credit for their contributions.  Praise them in ways that are personally meaningful; from congratulatory e-mails, to casual celebrations.
  • Recruit managers. Promoting ideas is a lot easier with managers’ support. Bring good ideas and good results to their attention.
  • Look for big opportunities in small ideas. Be open to broader implications. If a small idea is pointing towards a larger issue, work with employees to explore and address it.

To read more about ODI’s Continuous Operations Improvement Systems, click here.

Author: Johan Benadie: Director at ODI and a 20 Keys practitioner for 22 years.