How to find the great idea in your best practice

How to Find the Great Idea in Your Best Practice

Your Best Practice Might Not Work Everywhere

Javier was a well-loved director at an engineering design firm. He was also an accomplished Italian chef. Every year he would conduct an operational excellence rally that he personally catered with spaghetti made from homemade noodles, hand-crafted sausages from wild-game he hunted, and a sauce he cooked himself with vegetables he’d grown in his garden. It was an annual labor of love for Javier, a best practice the company respected, and his team left the annual rallies energized.

Another director in the same organization confided to us her doubts about her team ever performing like Javier’s, “I don’t boil water, much less cook like that. Our kick-offs are flat by comparison. I mean, I’d rather be with Javier’s team too.”

One Problem With Best Practice

She’d fallen into a common innovation trap that prevents many organizations from scaling their best micro-innovations. She’d focused on applying the practice, not the principle.

One of the challenges you’ll encounter as you develop or find best practices is that a game-changing solution for one team won’t work at all in another department.

Cooking a homemade meal for your team is a practice. For most people, that practice isn’t transferrable. But the principle of personally investing and connecting to your team is transferrable—every equipped leader can do that.

Finding the Principles In Best Practices

When your top-performing team seems to have discovered the secret to transforming their productivity, customer relationship, or sales, it is tempting to make everyone in the organization do the same thing right away.

We’ve worked with many executives who quickly rolled out the new behavior—only to become frustrated with spotty adoption and lackluster results. Leaders can fall into a reactive pattern of running from one great idea to the next, with none of them quite working.

The way out of the Best Practice Trap is to refine the ideas. It’s not the practice you’re after – it’s the principle. Find the principles that will work in different circumstances, then help your leaders and teams to localize those principles in ways that make sense for them.

Even if it looks great on paper, your leadership team is sold, and it worked well in the IT war room, field test the change first. The following steps will help you and your leaders identify why a best practice works and how to make it work in other contexts.

1. Ask Why It Works

You can find the principle within a best practice by asking, “Why did this work?” Sometimes you must ask “Why?” several times before you get to the essence of what really happened or the fundamental reasons for success. For example, you see a John, a customer service rep, consistently getting high scores from his customers. When your manager explores, he discovers that John ignores the opening script your quality team prepared and is connecting with genuine empathy. Of course, the answer is not to rewrite the script to match what John is saying. It’s to tap into the concept of genuine connection and help each rep get there in their own way.

Asking why takes courage—you might discover that your breakthrough was really a matter of luck and fortunate timing, rather than a repeatable principle everyone can use. That’s okay—when you know this upfront you save everyone the frustration of doing something that doesn’t feel right and won’t work.

Also, when you help your team members to think critically about their own ideas, they’re more likely to find meaningful solutions and have the confidence to share them.

In our Courageous Cultures research (download the white paper here) 40% of respondents said they lacked the confidence to share their ideas. 45% said there’s no training in critical-thinking and problem-solving. When you ask your team to think about why an idea works, you help to address both of these obstacles to building teams of innovators and customer advocates.

2. Test the Principle

When you first encounter a team member’s idea, you may trial and test it to learn more. That gives you an idea about why it works. Now it’s time to test that principle and see if it works the way you and your team think it does. Ideally, when you test the principle, try it in a couple of different settings, with different people.

3. Listen Closely

This is perhaps the most important part of testing a principle. As you test the principle and roll it out, really listen to what your people tell you. Check-in with stakeholders, partners, and customers. Respond to feedback with solutions, not selling. When you fix something, communicate it back using the 5×5 method—5 times, 5 different ways.

4. Ask How It Can Be Better

As you continue testing and rolling out the principle, ask questions that will help refine the principle:

  • How can we address this and make the change serve its purpose?
  • What’s working well and how do we leverage it?
  • What enhancements do we need?
  • Where should we head next?

All these questions help refine the principle—and they also build morale by including employees in your change efforts. At the heart of a courageous culture is the idea that great organizations build change together. Change isn’t something that’s done to employees.

5. Celebrate Different Expressions of the Principle

One key to successfully refining a best practice is to actively look for and tell stories about how people use the same idea in different ways. For example, if you’ve rolled out a principle of “making the customer feel that we’ve done everything possible to meet their need,” how are different teams living out that idea in their daily work?

For different customers, specific activities will probably look very different. When you find and celebrate these different activities and reinforce the underlying principle, it helps everyone think creatively about how they might do it.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share your principle (or best practice): When you’ve discovered a ground-breaking best practice, how do you find the idea that is transferable and can grow with other teams?

how leaders get more solutions from their teams

How Leaders Can Get More Solutions from Their Team

Invest twenty seconds to get more solutions and ideas.

Recently, I donated blood through the Red Cross. What happened next is a great example of how you can get more solutions, ideas, and critical thinking from your team members.

Four weeks after donating, I received the following email:

get more solutions

The email told me specifically where my donation went, reminded me of the impact it would have, and invited me to donate again. Wow – what fantastic follow up! I felt good knowing what had happened to my donation.

I saw the same follow up when I ordered flowers for Karin. The florist sent me a message to confirm my purchase, another message when the flowers left the store, and a final message telling me they had delivered the flowers. The real-time clarity and knowledge of exactly what was happening with those roses impressed me.

Why You Don’t Get More Solutions

We’re on a mission to help leaders build courageous cultures where innovation and problem-solving thrive.

As we talk with leaders and teams around the world, we hear two big reasons that employees don’t share more solutions to problems that directly affect customers, profitability, and even employee experience:

  1. No one asked me.
  2. Nothing happens when I share.

The first problem is easy to fix: start asking and get the information you need to make the best decisions.

The second problem takes a little more work and intention. When people share ideas and solutions, your response has a huge effect on whether they’ll continue.

If you don’t respond, people will stop sharing.

There’s nothing wrong with them – it’s disheartening to share your feedback, your solutions, and your best thinking only to feel ignored.

“But wait!” you say, “we’re not ignoring the feedback, in fact, we just implemented an employee suggestion that’s saving everyone time and making customers happier.”

Excellent! Do they and their colleagues know how you used their idea? Often, it’s not that you ignored the employee; it’s that they feel ignored because you didn’t respond.

What about these situations?

  • Jana makes a great suggestion, but it can’t be implemented right now because of competing strategic priorities.
  • Mark submits the same unworkable solution that five other people have also recommended.
  • Shantel proposes an idea that, unknown to her, got a trial run last year, but ran into obstacles and was abandoned.

Leaders often fail to respond to team members in these scenarios. As a result, the employees give up and stop sharing because “no one cares and nothing happens.”

7 Ways to Respond and Encourage More Solutions

Think about your healthy response in light of the Red Cross or florist updates. The Red Cross didn’t just send me a generic “your donation made a difference,” rather, they told me the specific hospital where they sent it. Keep your team member informed, connected, and ultimately glad she took the time to submit her idea.

Here are several ways you can respond to employees, build momentum, and encourage your team to continue sharing solutions even when you can’t implement their idea.

  1. Say “thank you.” Self-explanatory and always relevant. When someone takes the time to think about how things could be better, let them know you appreciate it.
  2. Share the process. Let them know what comes next and the relevant time frame. If it will take six months before you consider these ideas because of other strategic priorities, say so and explain the other priorities (your employee may surprise you with an idea that achieves those objectives).
  3. Tell them what happened. If you abandoned the idea, let them know. If you implemented the idea, let them know. If you referred it for testing, let them know.
  4. Provide more information. For ideas that you abandoned, share the additional information they didn’t know. Was there a budget constraint? An obstacle with another strategic aim? A conflict with another service or the needs of another department? Share this information with your team member. If you have a scattered employee who continually comes up with ideas that aren’t strategically relevant, let them know what would be helpful.
  5. Invite more solutions. Once you’ve shared why you didn’t implement an idea, encourage them to think through the problem with the additional information you’ve supplied and to let you know when they’ve got another thought about how to solve it. Not everyone will choose to think more deeply, but some will. Rather than people shutting down because they feel ignored, you will engage a powerful team of parallel processors all thinking about the problem from different angles.
  6. Involve them in trials or implementation. If possible, engage your team member in testing the idea on a small scale. Ask them to test the positive effects, costs, and unforeseen consequences. They experience they gain will inform their next ideas – and they know you took their idea seriously.
  7. Celebrate solutions. Regularly call attention to and celebrate the contribution of employees who share new ideas and solutions – even when those solutions don’t work. You get more of what you celebrate and encourage. Don’t just celebrate the ideas that work; celebrate the act of sharing thoughtful ideas and solutions. You’ll get more solutions and some of those will work.

Your Turn

You may not have a fully automated system to track your employee’s idea and communicate with them as it moves through the consideration, testing and implementation process (what if you did?), but you can still provide the feedback they need. In that moment, it doesn’t take over twenty seconds to say “thank you” and share next steps. Then another twenty seconds to let them know what happened. You’ll get more solutions when you respond to the ones you already have.

Leave us a comment and share how you respond to great ideas and the ideas you can’t use.