Authors: Michael Gibbs, University of Chicago, Susanne Neckermann,
Erasmus University Rotterdam, and Christoph Siemroth, University of Mannheim
Published: May 2014
In this paper, researchers had rare access to a database that tracked 5,000 ideas submitted by employees of an unidentified Asian information technology company. They found that newer workers may have a fresh perspective on the business, but it’s the longtime employees who have the primo ideas.
Younger professionals come up with slightly more suggestions than veterans, but theirs are not as good as those from the people in the organization for the longest time. To measure how good a given idea was, researchers looked at whether the idea was implemented within the company, a sign that management deemed it good enough to try, and whether it was shared with clients, on the rationale that managers would be unlikely to present inferior ideas to external stakeholders.
The researchers also discovered that rewards (points that could be turned in for such goodies as a smartphone) inspired workers—especially lower-level employees—to pitch ideas. That sounds like common sense, but an effect you might expect rewards to have—that workers would flood the suggestion box in the hope of a reward, diluting the quality of the ideas—didn’t happen.
Instead, idea quality was better overall, and incentives actually reduced the number of ideas per employee, even as they got more people to participate. What’s more, when the rewards went away, the ideas didn’t—the researchers suggested that workers keep pitching because they’d gotten in the habit of doing it.
One clear benefit: A website where employees can submit ideas lets management track the progress of suggestions. Better yet, it’s transparent, letting everyone in the organization see the origin and progress of ideas, which helps stimulate employee participation.