Ideas to energize & excite employees of a large traditional organization
April 13, 2013 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Hoping you can share some ideas or things you have observed companies do to energize and excite their organizations. Please note that ideas that work for young organizations like google may not work for me since I am trying to do this in a very traditional, large and old (over 100 years in business) organization. One idea that comes to mind is hiring relatively younger employees for senior management positions. Perhaps having more team outings might help as well. I would welcome any suggestions. Thanks in advance!
posted by r2d2 to Work & Money (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Hiring younger employees into senior management positions may backfire for your older, longer-term employees, who may feel passed over.

How about a mentorship program, where younger employees can learn from those with more experience?

We also have an "ambassador" program where employees can second to another department for 20% (one day a week) of their time, learning about parts of the organization that they might have nothing to do with otherwise. It does a lot for keeping people interested in career paths that might not have occurred to them.
posted by xingcat at 8:02 PM on April 13, 2013 [13 favorites]

What do you specifically mean by 'energize and excite' the organization? Who would 'do' the actions? Think of what you're trying to make happen and what would motivate people to do what you want to happen.

Off the top of my head, going out of your way to hire younger employees rather than hiring plain old qualified employees for senior management is not going to be an overall good strategy. Some people will welcome a younger boss; some people will bristle; some people will not care.

I would become more energized and excited by better pay and benefits for what I currently do (i.e., no added responsibilities) and for the recognition that the better pay and benefits are because I have been doing a great job lately.

Team outings are great fun (when they're not extracurricular), but what would they accomplish? besides spending time with the team not working? I enjoy long team meetings (doing team projects) when there is free lunch after or during and other refreshments. I enjoy team work when the people who have been hired to be part of my team are also good team workers. It has been nice that I am invited to play a role in the hiring of my team members.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:04 PM on April 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

IANAL but granting favorable hiring/promotion on the basis of age is likely illegal.

(assuming you are in the U.S.-- if not, might want to check the relevant authority/HR guru.)
posted by Schielisque at 8:18 PM on April 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Workers in general are "energized and excited" by decent pay and benefits, and profit-sharing.

"One idea that comes to mind is hiring relatively younger employees for senior management positions."

Oh, my lord. In what possible way would these younger workers be qualified for senior management? This is how tires get slashed in the parking lot. Please promote on the basis of qualifications and experience. Your best best is your older workers, wouldn't you think?
posted by BostonTerrier at 8:22 PM on April 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Regarding your question : What do you specifically mean by 'energize and excite' the organization?

I think you got it right. I am looking for ideas to keep employees motivated and engaged.
I find a lot of employees are less enthusiastic then I would like them to be. The pay is very competitive so its unlikely to be the cause. A lot of people have been there for over a decade and perhaps are just too comfortable.
posted by r2d2 at 8:25 PM on April 13, 2013

This question would best be asked to your employees.

Each company has it's own culture, and there are brand new internet startups that are as straight starched as you can get, while there are companies that have been around for generations where there would be a riot if there was no free beer on Friday.

You might also be interested in the Book Drive. While much of it does come from companies like Google, there are many ideas that might work within your constraints.
posted by Ookseer at 8:30 PM on April 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Does enthusiasm effect their job performance? I don't know what field you're talking about, but if they've been there for over a decade and have their routines down so that they can do their jobs efficiently, enthusiasm may not make a difference with their job performance.

One thing that may work (industry dependent), is to give every employee a certain amount of hours a month to work on whatever project they would like, as long as it is something for the company. Give new and old employees alike this opportunity. If everyone had 2 hours a week to dedicate to a project they can have a personal stake in, you may get some very interesting ideas. You'll also get some stinkers, but even one good idea which shakes things up could be worth it to the company. The plus side to this is that in many fields, cutting 2 hours of time from someone's weekly duties won't end up in them doing much less, since there is a certain amount of wasted time each day, and most people will still be able to get everything done with 30 minutes less in their day. This obviously doesn't apply to positions such as manufacturing, but if you've got people at a desk all day, this may give them some incentive to think about their job a little more.
posted by markblasco at 8:32 PM on April 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is "display adequate enthusiasm" part of their job descriptions? It still seems like you want something kind of vague.

Is there something concrete you would like from your employees that you are not getting?

Are they not producing adequate output, or are they just not smiling enough?

If morale seems low, are there any employees you could talk to about it, and trust that they will be candid? Do you have an HR department?
posted by Schielisque at 8:32 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

The issue is that we are not innovating as much as we would like. People are doing their jobs but not coming up with improvement opportunities. We don't have too many people coming up with new fresh ideas. Employees don't seems enthusiastic about bringing positive change.
I recently asked my team to share ideas and barely anybody bothered to respond to the survey (this is not the only thing that makes me feel the way I feel about the state of affairs).
posted by r2d2 at 8:51 PM on April 13, 2013

People are doing their jobs but not coming up with improvement opportunities.

The reason people are doing their jobs is because their job is to do their job.

The only way that "coming up with improvement opportunities" is going to happen is if:

(a) their job is to come up with improvement opportunities, and
(b) they have the power/autonomy to implement and follow through on those opportunities

So what you might want to do is give some employees space to explore new opportunities and follow through on the idea. There should be a reward for doing so, such as possibly having their regular workload reduced in favor of pursuing this opportunity independently. Note that "having more team outings" does not come into play, here. You don't just magically shake people up and then have them "come up with new ideas." Instead, you provide incentives like, "if you come up with a good idea, we will give you budget and time to pursue it and develop it", and success there will help them get promoted and/or more money, etc.

Otherwise, frankly, you're just squeezing your employees for ideas that you should actually be coming up with. It takes time and mental energy to come up with ideas. If employees know that they are just all going to go into a big bucket while you pick and choose only a few good ones and use your own authority to pursue them yourself, they have no motivation to do so.
posted by deanc at 9:29 PM on April 13, 2013 [20 favorites]

What roadblocks are in the way of implementing their ideas and how could you remove them? I worked at a similarly large corporation for a while and had all sorts of ideas, but sheer corporate inertia and "that's the way we've always done it so That's The Way It Is Done" swiftly crushed any hope of doing things a different way even if all parties would admit it was better than what we were doing.

If you want to create a culture of innovation, you need to show that you and the company value that innovation and have a concrete system (though god not too much of one because if it's anywhere like where I worked any joy or creativity would be crushed by a massive bureaucratic system) in place to recognize and reward it, as well as, maybe even most importantly, implement it.

Put another way, why would I give you a great idea (or even bother to think of one) if I know I'll be told something like "Well, that's a wonderful idea but is completely unworkable because This Is The Way We Do Things?" Why would I be enthusiastic about changing things if I know anything that threatens the status quo is going to be met by vicious political infighting and backstabbing? (Just speaking from my personal experience here).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:31 PM on April 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

The issue is that we are not innovating as much as we would like. People are doing their jobs but not coming up with improvement opportunities. We don't have too many people coming up with new fresh ideas. Employees don't seems enthusiastic about bringing positive change.
It is non-trivial to make this change. But it is possible, and there are well-established frameworks for doing it, most of which are descendants of the Toyota Production System.

You aren't going to learn this from a single AskMe, though you are already getting some good advice. Once you understand whatever variation of the Toyota system you intend to implement, you need to ensure that you get buy-in throughout your organization. Although it can work in limited implementations, it works best in groups that are logically or physically isolated from those who aren't doing it. If you have a large organization and need to prove that this works, pick a small remote division that has below average performance (if you pick a successful group and it continues to be successful, then you haven't proved anything).

There are a ton of books and lectures on youtube out there to help get you started. Note that "Lean" and "Agile" are software development variations on this theme. Each implementation needs to be carefully tuned to the organization it is applied to, and a continuous tuning process is actually a major part of how it works (the tuning is done mostly by the people at the lowest levels, not management!). Be wary of anyone who professes an extremely rigid way of doing things - they are probably selling snake oil.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:46 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is there a tangible benefit to them for sharing their ideas? Because "doing their jobs" is their job--"coming up with improvement opportunities" (probably) isn't. Do they have reason to be unenthusiastic about the possibilities of change? That is, have previous "changes" meant that they got additional duties, or had to learn new processes that gave the same end result, or seen their coworkers get downsized?

Also, many people just aren't great at coming up with new ideas. You don't mention your industry, but I've worked at places, for example, where we were all being encouraged to come up with new ideas, and chastised for not doing so--but most of the company didn't actually work on our core product, they worked in support of it. So these people who knew very little about our product (but a lot about warehouse management, or running specific bits of machinery, or whatever) were being told repeatedly that they should be Innovating! And Being Creative! And there really wasn't any way that they could do so--at least not on the subject that management wanted suggestions for.

Additionally, those of us who could offer suggestions were often met with "Hey, that's a great idea! We should really look into that! Why don't you look into that?" There wasn't a corresponding reduction in duties, just the vague idea that you should, in addition to what you already do, do some more research. Most people stalled out here. The handful of times I'm aware of that they didn't stall out, they eventually presented an fully formed and researched idea to management...and were then told that their work was really appreciated, and management would look into it further. No one knew if anything was actually further investigated, but nothing ever came of any of those ideas.

Can you make it immediately beneficial to people who make suggestions? Maybe everyone who suggests something in December gets entered in a drawing in February, and they get a day off with pay, or $50, or something that has a definite value to them, just for suggesting. And if their idea is something that you can use, they get [other bonus]. You'll see more ridiculous/pointless ideas, but presumably at least some of them will be solid.

That said, though, I'd suggest trying to adjust your expectations somewhat. Most employees want to show up and do their jobs--and people who've been with the same company for ten years are probably more likely than most to want that, because they're presumably comfortable and happy with the way things are. Many, if not most, people aren't especially skilled at seeing (or articulating) the potential for change, and expecting them to do so sets yourself up for disappointment and your employees up for failure. Encourage and incentivise them to offer suggestions, but don't expect it of them.
posted by MeghanC at 9:47 PM on April 13, 2013 [9 favorites]

If you want them to innovate, you need to provide them the opportunity to do so. Not a "hey, do you have any great ideas?", but instead a "we're going to put our other projects on hold for 2 hours every Wednesday morning and work on coming up with some ideas of things we can change and innovate." Make it a part of the job, and give people time and incentive to do it, otherwise it's just more work to be done on top of what they are already doing.

So, try taking your team away from their normal office for a few hours one day, buy them all lunch, and tell them that you want to start innovating and coming up with new ideas. They'll all get time to work on it set aside from their other duties, and each month the 3 people who have either the best idea, or contribute the most to moving a project forward, will get to leave early on Friday, or get a Cadbury Cream Egg, or a $20 bill, or something. If a strong idea comes forward that you want to start adding into your workflow, the people who came up with it will get additional resources to make it happen and implement it. Each month you will all meet to discuss. No one will get penalized for ideas that don't fly, they will just get scrapped and those people will get to work on something else.

That time can be spent brainstorming new ideas, or researching how other companies are doing something new, or working on workflows to improve current production, or reorganizing the snack drawer to make sure the chocolate never runs out, or whatever else people think will benefit the company as a whole.

Throw this at them and see what happens. It might be fantastic, or it might have everyone rolling their eyes behind your back. You won't know until you try it.
posted by markblasco at 10:23 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding what everyone else says above, especially the need to support those new ideas once they come up. A couple words to add to your reading list and googling:
- Design Thinking - the linked video is a timed exercise from Stanford
- Flextime - this is the concept people keep mentioning above. 2hr/week is probably not enough, it's often 10% of your worktime
posted by whatzit at 11:23 PM on April 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think there are three things that encourage innovation in an organization: time to think, tangible rewards for making the effort, and a sense of efficacy (i.e. the feeling that their ideas might actually be taken on board). A few years ago, my organization went through a cost-cutting exercise where they encouraged people to come up with new ways of doing things to save money, gave everyone a day per quarter to develop their proposals, then calculated what would be saved and rewarded the proponent with ten per cent of that amount. Winners could take all of the bonus in cash, or could trade a portion of it for extra paid time off (very popular with us GenXers). All of a sudden, we found that our very stodgy agency contained many highly creative people. (Sadly, however, the bonus programme and the dedicated day both ended up being targeted in the next cost-cutting exercise, and now we are lucky to get one or two ideas per year... Doh!)

Also, I think people get very tired of surveys and questionaires that seem to ask the same things and get the same answers over and over again, but never seem to move forward to address any of the very well-known problems. It would also be worthwhile to look at previous exercises., and note which ideas come up over and over again, then perhaps circulate a document for discussion and/or have a meeting where you brainstorm about how to actually implement some of these changes.

Finally, I second the note of caution re deliberately setting out to hire younger people. That kind of thing is very demoralizing to senior staff who will feel that their experience and knowledge is undervalued. It will make them more, rather than less likely, to "just do their jobs." Instead, I would suggest developing a set of competency- based criteria for competitions and encouraging everyone to apply, regardless of where they are in the organization, how long they have been there, etc.. My agency moved to this system after a very opaque, "patronage-based" (my term, not senior management's) promotion system, and found that while there were definitely talented young people out there, there were also many people who had been languishing in low-profile but essential areas, developing great skills, but had not come to the attention of a senior mentor. The new selection system gave them a chance to shine, and seeing some people who had been recognized by their peers for years get ahead was very energizing to many employees.
posted by rpfields at 1:10 AM on April 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

Take a look into working with a professional Innovation Engineer Black Belt and your group, including doing some "create" sessions to produce the ideas that then can be vetted, developed and implemented. The IE process is fascinating, and I've seen firsthand how it helps companies.
posted by vers at 4:36 AM on April 14, 2013

Setting out to deliberately hire "relatively younger employees" would be committing age discrimination.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:41 AM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think fine-tuning just what kind of "improvements" you want might be helpful, and who you want them from. The secretaries could probably tell you how to improve the reimbursement process, for example - speaking as a secretary - and might have some surprising insights into hiring or compliance, but are unlikely to have much insight into, like, programming.

In fact, why not ask the lower-level people who do boring work how their workflow could be improved? One thing I've noticed in "efficiency drives" at work is that no one ever seems to ask the people who do the day-to-day work, or shadow them or anything - it's just something "designed" from above, and we've ended up with huge gaping holes requiring giant, awkward paper work-arounds in some everyday processes because the initial planning was done by someone who didn't do the work.

When I read "why not hire young people into senior positions", I am concerned - not just, as people have mentioned upthread, because of the bad feeling that hiring for age will cause or because it is illegal, but because it seems like you may not have done a lot of careful thinking about this, and yet you are in a position where you can create company-wide policy. I would strongly suggest a lot of consultation with people who are actually friendly to workers and with someone who is familiar with employment law - not your HR people, not your assistant, not some corporate "motivation" speaker, not people from elite backgrounds.

People who have been in their jobs ten years and who are not "innovating" (which appears to mean "putting in unpaid time" and "responding to online surveys"?)...who are those people? Are a lot of them people who have family responsibilities or who have to care for their aging parents? I used to work with a small department that was basically composed of single people in their late forties and fifties who did very little besides work - their entire lives were the office, they had no reason not to come in and work for free on the weekend which they literally did most weekends, and of course their productivity was great (and they were all nice people) but they were not a realistic sample of what "average" employees should be expected to achieve. A manager who wondered why his other employees weren't acting like Department X would be nuts, because most employees have outside lives to attend to.

Here is a thing I've learned through volunteer work crossed with my regular work: if you want people to succeed, you have to scaffold success for them. Ie, people don't respond to emails, especially vague emails about new ideas. It can be frustrating, actually, because you feel like responding to emails is part of the job/project, but realistically, if you want the results you have to do the things that get the results. I have found that these things help:

1. Face to face communication
2. Small group work or pair work
3. Recognizing people's skills, especially early in the process "Jaime, we asked you to be part of this because of your valuable experience designing the Golden Widget"
4. Giving people a chance to express their personalities and shine a little - informal settings where people can make jokes, be funny, create a "project culture"
5. Dedicated time
6. Clear goals - "we want to come up with a better way to use Widget Tracking to support the end-user" rather than a nebulous statement that we want to "innovate"
7. Clear definition of the problems. "Widget Tracking is very slow and requires that the new system talk to the old system, plus we also have a paper form that has to be data entered"
8. Recognition that people can be different - you don't actually need a whole company of go-getter, unpaid-overtime-working widget boosters, you just need a few, and if you start pushing out your workadaddy ten year veterans who are just doing their jobs, you'll regret it in the long run.

Also - and this sounds so obvious but I have seen very, very smart people forget all about it in real life - remember to make sure that "innovations" really improve the process. I've lost track of all the times that I've seen initiatives to pre-emptively gather all the data (because it's kind of a nuisance to have to gather just some specialized info just when it's needed) that did indeed gather all the data, but added so many person-hours in data-gathering and data tracking that they were actually far more cumbersome than just "oh, hey, we need to compile a list of all the Micro-Widget buyers for June and how much they spent".
posted by Frowner at 6:16 AM on April 14, 2013 [10 favorites]

I continued to think about this and it occurred to me that you might want to consider personality types.

I think we all tend to fall into the "everyone can do everything really, really well if they are just supported correctly" mindset.

I work with a lot of researchers, and there really is a "researcher personality" - results-based, impatient with rules and compliance, capable of making big creative leaps from fiddly data-sets yet also able to do very fiddly boring work to generate the data sets, impatient with surface appearance and protocol, good at isolating a system in order to break down how it works. Not all researchers are 100% researcher-personality, of course, but it's a recognizable type. Researchers personalities are tremendously important and valuable and need to be nurtured. However, it's an expense of spirit in a waste of shame to assume that if we just hack the researcher personality, we can get people who will spend eighty percent of their time being creative, impatient and results based and twenty percent of their time being HR-focused, protocol-driven, concerned with appearances and extremely socially slick. You hire a researcher for their researcher personality and then you also hire HR people, accountants and research support staff who are good at numbers, rules, protocol, tracking and integrating systems into the world at large. And you don't expect to drop those people into the lab and have them start centrifuging. (Although honestly I kind of wish I had the option to add a little pipetting to my day.)

So what have you been hiring for? Have you been hiring people for reliability, patience with crabby vendors, ability to do boring fiddly repetitive things with code, etc? If you need those qualities, it is probably a mistake to start getting upset at those people because they are not "innovators". Some of them can probably innovate fairly well given the opportunity, and there may be a frustrated innovation-genius lurking, but I think it's important to understand that people are not all-purpose robots, and that it's okay for someone to be reliable, timely, patient, courteous and really good at spreadsheets but not a creative type - and that someone who is some kind of nineties-style go-getter probably isn't going to be the world's best spreadsheet wrangler and vendor-soother.
posted by Frowner at 7:09 AM on April 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Read Drive, by Daniel Pink. It's about what motivates people. Make sure that you really respect what they do and know. If you're young and they're not, what you see as youthful energy may be coming across as lack of respect. Youthful energy and innovation are awesome. Age, wisdom and experience are also awesome.
posted by theora55 at 9:50 AM on April 14, 2013

Theora55, Thanks a ton for your suggestions. I will read the book 'Drive' by Daniel Pink.
Once again thank you so much for your input.
posted by r2d2 at 10:05 AM on April 14, 2013

You might check out this article on Adam Grant, as there is a lot of discussion about work and motivation in the course of it.
posted by gudrun at 10:11 AM on April 14, 2013

Make sure you are asking people to innovate regarding what they actually do and know. Frowner's point above is excellent -- so often, rank-and-file employees aren't given a chance to give meaningful input into systems and tools that impact their own workflow. It doesn't need to impact the core product in order to be an improvement to the company's bottom line.

Make the request for ideas something concrete and doable, like "today we're going to meet for 20 minutes at 3 pm. There will be donuts and everyone will be asked to write up one thing that is a hindrance to your workflow and suggest an idea to eliminate the barrier, so please think on it before we meet."
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:02 PM on April 14, 2013

It's difficult to motivate and energise people. You can give them incentives, but these have a short-term effect, quickly lose their effectiveness, and can even undermine performance in the longer term. (Even salaries do this.)

You can, however, remove barriers to motivation. I suggest you start there. Note that this is a risky proposition:

- I'm here to remove your barriers!
- [x] is a barrier.
- Yeah, sorry, can't get rid of [x].
- Well, now I'm even less motivated.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:43 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like what you actually want is a major culture change, but you're looking to achieve it with a few minor tweaks. Such things can be accomplished but they take a number of years, and a lot of commitment and effort from you, using multiple levers of change.

The first question you may need to answer is: How much does this matter to you?

If people aren't responding, it may well be that they don't get the sense that this is all that important to you. And if your idea of what you're willing to do to make this happen is have a few team outings and ask for ideas on Mefi, they're probably right.
posted by philipy at 10:20 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Senses Working Overtime   |   Artsy/funky/old-timey black & white film for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.