Employees who introduce new ideas about enhancing management and business performance in organizations, make important contributions to the success of a company. Yet they are often unsung heroes, according to a study by Davenport, Prusak, and Wilson.

The authors call these people “idea practitioners” and interviewed 100 of them from various industries, to find out what their characteristics are, and how companies can better support their endeavours.

According to the study, “They are avid readers of management literature and enthusiastic participants in business conferences; many are friendly with business gurus. Once they’ve identified an idea that seems to hold promise, they tailor it to fit their organizations’ specific needs.

Next, they actively sell the idea--to senior executives, to the rank and file, to middle managers. And finally, they get the ball rolling by participating in small-scale experiments. But when those take off, they get out of the way and let others execute…

The most successful idea practitioners are able to gear ideas to the issues executives care about and express them in terms of the key themes–such as innovation, efficiency, or effectiveness–that executives stress in their rhetoric.

Care and Feeding of an Idea Practitioner

Based on their interviews, the authors offer seven pieces of advice to employers to keep them happy (and keep them from leaving).

1. Recognize their existence.

Do you know who they are, or where to find them? They are often members of communities of practice or working on grass-roots initiatives.

2. Carve out roles for them.

Ericsson, for example, has a group devoted to importing and implementing ideas relative to business improvement. Motorola appoints innovators to its Science Advisory Board. Companies such as GE ensure that business unit leaders of idea initiatives get promoted.

3. Give them license to pursue ideas.

Provide a framework of explicitly stated values and leadership-driven initiatives to work in.

4. Reward them…carefully.

Idea practitioners are motivated by the intellectual stimulation and excitement of turning ideas into action. The best motivation a leader can offer is to hear them out and provide visible support. The best reward is to give them public recognition when a valuable idea is successfully implemented. Financial rewards need to be handled expertly to avoid pitfalls.

5. Get into the ideas.

The greatest factor in determining the success of an idea, is the perception of CEO-level backing. It is vitally important that idea practitioners have the support of idea champions to help clear obstacles.

6. Run occasional interference to protect a worthy idea.

If idea practitioners don’t get the support they need, they may stop championing new ideas, or leave the company.

7. Create an idea-friendly culture

Leaders must take responsibility for providing a culture that lets ideas flourish, and encourages tolerance for failure. Not all ideas are going to work out. Success and failure provide opportunities for learning.

Idea practitioners are a valuable resource for organizations who shouldn’t be taken for granted. As the authors point out, “Fresh ideas about management are more critical than ever to enhancing business performance, to motivating workers, and to revitalizing your organization.”

Source: “Who’s Bringing You Hot Ideas And How Are You Responding?” By: Davenport, Thomas H., Prusak, et al, Harvard Business Review, Feb 2003

Why Your Employees Don’t Innovate

There’s a huge disconnect on the subject of innovation between leaders and lower-level employees, according to a global survey published by Harvard Business Review (2016)

“While nearly nine in ten non-managers strongly believe they ought to be involved in innovation, far fewer (roughly six in ten) say they actually are. We saw this at small as well as large companies and among all age groups (Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials).” 

When employees feel their voices are not being heard, or they are not involved in the decision-making process, they are likely to stop caring and become disengaged. If they don’t feel heard or valued they will stop contributing ideas for innovation.

Develop the creative leadership capabilities required to drive innovation, gain a competitive advantage and grow your business

See also Culture Your Culture