The 4 Pillars of a Successful Ideation Program

The 4 Pillars of a Successful Ideation Program  - Innovation ExcellenceRunning an idea management program is more than just giving employees a suggestion box to submit ideas. In fact, according to research, having even an average suggestion box program can actually have detrimental effects on your organization’s employee engagement.

Decreased employee engagement can consequently impact employee productivity and bottom-line revenue generation. Based on in-depth research from over 20 academic papers and reports on employee suggestion boxes, we found 10 useful insights that lead to better ideas that impact the bottom line. Those insights are grouped into four main pillars for managing a successful ideation program (read our full analysis in the Employee Suggestion Box guide).

The Four Pillars

  • Idea Quality and Quantity

  • Idea Submission

  • Idea Evaluation

  • Idea Implementation

Idea Quality and Quantity

A successful employee suggestion box program will have a healthy number of ideas submitted by employees. At the same time, these ideas should be aligned to strategic objectives to help bring value to the organization. Some of the factors which impact the quality of ideas (defined as an idea that gets successfully implemented and has an impact on business results) are: understanding how group dynamics impacts ideation; using role modelling in idea management to advance learning; and balancing the focus between radical and incremental innovation.

Idea Submission

High performance idea systems can generate hundreds of ideas per employees every year (average performing is below one idea per employee per year), but having an idea does not guarantee that it will be shared. Unfortunately, many ideas never see the light of day. Achieving an accelerated level of idea submission is a result of three essential factors. The first step is removing barriers to entry – simple online tools that are easily accessible do best. The most important factor is fostering trust with between leaders and employees by giving feedback on ideas. Next, ensure that reward systems prioritize the non-tangible benefits of ideas submission for the employee. Lastly, scaling idea submission for massive enterprises.

Idea Evaluation

One of the most challenging part of managing an ideation system is evaluating the ideas. Research consistently points to a lack of feedback as the biggest reason idea management programs fail. To succeed, you need to optimize the process for feedback and evaluation so that it’s not a bottleneck. Although there are a few ways to resolve the bottleneck, two key factors are: fast feedback (not necessarily a full evaluation or a commitment to move the idea forward) and technology. Some successful idea programs have ideas go to immediate supervisors so feedback can be immediate and then the idea gets passed up the hierarchy to reach the best person to evaluate and implement.

Another way to handle quick feedback is to provide peer review of ideas. This also helps improve the quality of the idea. Both these approaches provide fast feedback that helps keep employees engaged in the program. What’s important is providing a way to stage idea progression until it can reach an evaluation group or committee – but sending ideas directly to the evaluation committee is the primary cause of bottlenecks as larger organizations can’t process that many ideas through a small number of people. Regardless of approach, technology can be a major enabler to help facilitate group dynamics and reveal which ideas are most important for your organization.

Idea Implementation

Just as important as the other pillars, idea implementation heavily relies on setting up the employee suggestion box program for success by aligning program goals to your organization’s strategic goals. Ideas that do not get implemented are typically the result of not being able to secure the resources or budget to move the idea forward. The only way to ensure that ideation translates to innovation is to make sure it’s aligned to the priorities of the organization so that innovation aligns well with the work and budget available.

The other important element of having a successful funnel of innovation from employee ideas is to have the right perspective from the start. Building organizational muscle to solicit good ideas, marshal those ideas through and see them implemented takes some persistence. Leaders should give themselves one to three years to fully operationalize and realize the benefits of an employee ideation program. It’s very rare that a program will be an overnight success, so having support from leaders to pursue and push ideas to completion is important.

Read more about each of the pillars and the 10 factors that separate suggestion box failures from high performance ideation systems in the Employee Suggestion Box guide.


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Jacqueline Zhou




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