Tap the Brainpower of Everyone Who Works Under Your Roof

Fresh Thinking About Better Ways to Do Business Can Come From Any Employee, but You Need to Encourage It

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Some of the most powerful ideas to transform our agency over the years have come from the most unlikely sources. This is not a revelation, as many companies have used suggestion boxes successfully to solicit new thinking from employees, many of whom would never be invited to a brainstorming meeting. But unless you pay attention, it's easy to get away from tapping all the imaginative minds gathered each work day under the same roof.

Ideas of senior leaders in the agency are heard on a regular basis. But what about the recent college grad in project management? Or the dude writing code who never looks up from his screen? Or the person who sees and talks to more clients than anyone: the receptionist. At our shop, we tell everyone the day they arrive: creativity is not a department. Your ideas are always welcome.

We have a contest called "One Idea," where we ask everyone in the agency to enter one suggestion that could move us forward in a meaningful way. Maybe it's a plan to make the company run smarter. Or a new specialty practice area we should start. Or a better way to communicate internally. No idea is frowned upon.

Contestants present their entries to a senior leadership team. The winner gets a cash award, plus unprecedented recognition and a serious career boost. Not to mention the envy of peers.

For the company, the benefits go far beyond the obvious boost of fresh thinking. The contest rallies the staff to a goal. It's good for morale, as the process is fun, and the drama of finding out who won generates positive energy. It also gets your team aligned faster on a new initiative. You also get to see the bench strength of your agency. You might discover someone who has remarkable presentation skills, for example. And ultimately involving the whole agency makes a statement: everyone matters.

It works for us. It might work for you, too. Think of it as your agency's own "X Factor" competition, where you discover a great talent and get a hit album along with it.

Marc Brownstein is president of The Brownstein Group, Philadelphia.
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