All ideas are not created equal. Someone’s great idea may not, in fact, be that great when considered within the larger context of your association’s strategic goals and objectives. Even so, with the New Year well under way, most organizations want to encourage their team members to share their great, or perhaps not-so-great, ideas.
Ultimately, ideas lead to innovation, and it’s important to have a mechanism in place for employees to suggest them easily. Your method of gathering ideas might be as simple as the proverbial suggestion box in your lunch room or an online form that goes to a staff committee.
Whatever method you decide upon to solicit ideas, once the ideas pour in, it’s equally as important to have a process for vetting them. According to Patrick Stroh, author of Advancing Innovation: Galvanizing, Enabling & Measuring for Innovation Value! (Institute of Management Accountants, 2015), a key component of that process needs to be asking lots of questions.
"The truth is, if you don't have a measuring stick to evaluate important ideas from so-so ideas or even poor ones, then it's hard to expect your employees and others to innovate," Stroh recently said. "Every company needs a set of questions and a repeatable method for considering innovations. It's the answers to these questions that will determine which ideas drive innovation impact faster—and which ones are just noise."
Which questions are most important? In Stroh’s experience, which includes serving as president of Mercury Business Advisors and on the board of directors for the Institute of Management Accountants, these three are most important:
- Is the idea or project core to your value proposition?
- Is it either big or leverageable?
- Will it take priority?
From Stroh’s perspective, these three questions “can help you determine which ideas are worth pursuing and which ones just sound interesting.” Of course, as he suggests, you’ll need to delve into each one more deeply by asking follow-up questions like these:
- If it isn’t core to your value proposition, why would you want to spend resources on it?
- How will you launch and service this offering with existing and new customers?
- Is this a key area or opportunity for our industry or market?
- Would I stop other priorities that we are currently working on to take on this initiative?
While Stroh favors a standardized approach to vetting new ideas, he also stresses that “these are meant to be clarifying questions, not disqualifying ones.” If you’re truly looking to innovate, you need to approach this questioning phase with a mantra of “finding ways to get to yes.” To that end, make sure you let team members know how ideas are evaluated. With this information in hand, they can innovate with intent.