Wider World of Business

Even if your organization seems stagnant and your brainstorming sessions routinely exchange new, dull ideas for old, lifeless ones, there’s hope. Great ideas can be gotten from your current roster of employees. You just need to know where to look, and how to ask. Here are four places you might not have considered yet.

To solicit ideas and gain insights, pose questions like these:

1. Your front-line employees know what delights and disappoints your customers. Capable front-line employees know which actions please customers and which alienate them. They are also aware of which customer-facing scripts and duties are superfluous or even counterproductive. As a result, they can offer great ideas on simple ways to increase customer satisfaction, adapt to changing needs and improve retention.

  • Can you describe in one word what the customer wants? Are we consistently delivering on that singular desire?
  • How have customer mindsets and patterns of interaction changed over the past few years, and how have we adapted or failed to adapt to new realities?
  • What do you need to serve customers better?

2. Veteran employees are astute observers of industry trends, competitive activity and company positioning. Your company may have diligent workers who have deep yet untapped expertise. These people have been watching trends for years, and are familiar with current happenings as well as historical patterns. They understand how your company is positioned in the marketplace.

These employees may not appear to be inventive because they are focused on day-to-day assignments, have interpersonal styles that don’t reflect their ingenuity or have never honed the persuasion skills needed to win support for new initiatives. Still, they have fresh thoughts to consider. Get the most out of them by engaging them in conversation with prompts such as these:

  • What is the one big idea that we ought to be pursuing but aren’t?
  • What are our competitors doing that scares you?
  • What landmark achievements have you witnessed in the past and what should we aim for in the future?

3. Your operations people know how to make things flow smoothly. Operations team members are committed to making sure that promises made to customers are honored. But because they are often the first to alert you of glitches, you may think of these employees as uninterested in breakthrough ideas that may be hard to execute. However, because of their experience, they are aware of how to prevent problems. More importantly, they often have great ideas on ways to support seasonal spikes in sales, sustain long-term growth and improve service levels.

What do customers want that we haven’t been able to deliver?Talk with your operations people about how to manage the backbone of the organization. Pose these types of questions:

  • What most frustrates our customers?
  • What bottlenecks do we have that keeps us from increasing sales quickly?

4. Entry-level employees have the creativity and intellect to produce great ideas. Many of your employees have the capacity to bring brilliant ideas to your meeting table. You may not have consulted them because they hold entry-level positions or work in a discipline that rarely delivers innovation. But they may have the imagination and ingenuity plus experiences at school, in a side business or as a volunteer that have equipped them to generate useful ideas.

To stimulate creativity at every level of your company, start conversations by asking questions like these:

  • How can we use our strengths to better serve our customers?
  • What problems have you solved in other situations that seem to exist in our organization?
  • What customers could we attract with adjustments to our products, services or messaging?

Sift through the ideas presented by your employees, discerning what is inspired by your vision for the company and what represents personal agendas. Reject what doesn’t fit with your strategic direction. Refine and build upon the worthy ideas.

Keep in mind that some will be reluctant to share their thoughts. They may be hesitant because they think that expressing concerns indicates conflict with their supervisors who dismissed their ideas in earlier conversations. They might be fearful of the change, uncertainty and the hard work that will accompany the implementation of innovation. But great ideas can come from inside your organization if you talk to the right people and ask the right questions.

Julie Rains is a senior writer at Wise Bread, a leading personal finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money. Get daily money tips by following Wise Bread on Facebook or Twitter.