Management Innovation: Yes, your employees have brains!

Posted By on Apr 9, 2008 | 7 comments

Human Brain in a Jar

Henry Ford was once quoted to have asked the question: “Why is it that whenever I ask for a pair of hands, a brain comes attached?

Too many companies ask this same question everyday. They may not verbalize it, but they ask it day in and day out by NOT asking the people that comprise their organizations questions like: “What do you think? Do you agree? How could we do this better?”

Ask is the second step in the SANE approach to innovation. Once you’ve set expectations that you want everyone to be involved in innovation, you have to start asking. Ask your team members to think outside the box. Ask them for their opinions. Ask them if they argee with you, rather than just telling them what YOU think.

Ask, Ask, Ask. You have not, because you ask not.

There are far to many mediocre “me too” companies out there playing catch up, with nothing innovative to show for themselves.

If you want innovation to become part of your organization’s culture, it has to start with YOU (the CEO, manager, team leader, etc). It starts with management innovation. It starts with humbleness, and waking up to the fact that you aren’t better than anyone else. By hiring other people, you’ve already admitted you can’t do everything by yourself, so why shoot yourself in the foot by insisting that you always know best?

Ford was an innovative man in his time, but the kind of thinking reflected in his quote above will only get you where Ford Motor Company is today – struggling and chasing a competitor that “gets it” (Toyota), because their competitor believes in the value of every individual employee.

Yes, your employees have brains! Why not encourage them to use them, rather than stifle innovation by reducing them to a role or a cog? Treat your team members/employees with the respect they deserve, ask them for their opinions and ideas, and start creating a culture of innovation today.

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  1. Jesse, you’re absolutely correct. Oddly enough, being in the tech space where workers are highly skilled, it baffles me when management doesn’t take professional input on a regular basis.

    From the perspective of the company, utilizing that brainpower within the organization is in step with the mantra “One ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” If you ask for just hands, you’re most likely tossing prevention out the window. However, when you ask for brainpower, you’re setting up an environment that can avoid significant failure.

  2. I have been doing programs in companies for 25 years that extracted some phenomenal ideas from the lowest level employees and you are spot on: Innovation in a company starts with a little management humility. And when that happens a whole lot of things happen, ideas flow, profits go up and products start to fly through the process as employees begin to take ownership of their jobs. I have done this in over 150 companies and have run 25,000 employees through our training program and believe me “Employees do have brains.” I just found your website and I like what you are saying.


    Leonard Bertain, Ph.D.
    Oakland, CA

  3. I could not agree with you more. All too often I talk to CEOs trying to make strategic decisions or solve critical problems and when I ask them if they have asked their internal people what they think the right direction is I am met with a blank stare.

    I would also suggest that beyond just asking an organization needs a process for taking action on the great ideas that will come out of asking. We are struggling to find the best system or systems to facilitate the process but we currently collect data in a survey tool, create open conversation about the ideas in another tool, and then prioritize and implement ideas in a project tool.

    We quickly found that we needed to provide feedback, visibility, priority, and input into the ideas generated so that employees did not feel like things were going into a black hole.

    I believe Michael Dell is known for making each of his employees give him one improvement recommendation each meeting in their early days – perhaps he has the ideal tool for facilitating this process!

    Josh Clifford

  4. Sinclair – Good point. By asking for brain power, you are definitely setting up an environment that can avoid significant failure. If only because you no longer have all of your eggs in one basket so to speak.

    Leonard – Thanks for the encouragement! As you brought up, employees taking ownership of their jobs is so critical.

    I love your HVLC Innovation system. Great stuff! I’d love to chat with you more about it.

    Josh – I completely agree that organizations absolutely need to have a process for managing and acting on the great ideas that will come from asking. After asking comes nurturing/managing the ideas, and after nurturing comes executing/acting on the ideas.

    Your point about providing feedback to make sure that employees doing feel like things are going into a black hole cannot be understated. That is so vital.

  5. Wow! Amen to that.

  6. If I admit that they have brains then I will have to pay them more… ;-)

  7. HA! If you admit that they have brains, you’ll be making more… :-)

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