Your staff have plenty of bright ideas, but do they know the best way to present them?

If you want your staff to keep taking a positive interest in your business, you need to teach them about ‘managing upwards’. Otherwise known as ‘managing the boss’, and it’s a lot more than knowing how she likes her coffee or what beer he drinks.

Many staff have bright ideas for new menus, equipment, service and efficiencies. Some will cost money and many of them won’t, but they usually need the agreement of senior management, owners or directors.

Staff are often told their suggestions are welcome: ‘my door is always open…’, but sometimes don’t know how to use the keys. Management in turn needs to hold back on the reflex reaction of ‘how much will that all cost?’ Suggestions soon dry up if the response is always negative.

Your staff may have noticed that you happily spend thousands on new furniture and ‘research holidays’, but then knock back their request for a faster coffee machine or function software to manage room bookings, but let’s leave the very human inconsistencies aside…

Here are some principles to share with staff so they offer their suggestions in a way that will be heard and taken seriously.

  • Choose your timing – don’t just drop by, it undervalues your time and the idea, and doesn’t respect the time of others. Make an appointment, even if it’s informal.
  • Get permission for the discussion. No-one likes to be ambushed, so make sure the boss knows what you want to talk about. This will also build curiosity and hopefully, a willingness to listen.
  • Be specific with examples, and offer comparisons with other businesses. Talk about ‘before’ and ‘after’ situations. Give the names of businesses where this equipment or method of operation can be seen in action. Gather testimonials, especially for intangibles like software.
  • Be frank with any possible negatives or issues that might arise if changes are made. How will a menu change impact on other items? How will the kitchen cope, and what will be the reaction of customers? Where will new equipment fit? What will be the staff reaction if rostering is done in a different way?
  • Show the financial benefits. Will the suggestion save money, or will increase sales and profits? How will the happen? Will this make the business look better or improve its reputation? Ask for the Return on Investment – how quickly the expense will pay for itself. A spreadsheet may help to make the costing more understandable.
  • Ask them for a short written summary, so it’s not just words floating in the air. This may be a written document, a spreadsheet or notes in the diary. Something that can be referred to later. A one-page Suggestion Sheet that sets out these details makes it easier for staff to put their bright ideas into a form that will make sense.

Innovation means taking risks, and the most successful businesses are continually testing new ideas and ways of working. When you create positive channels, the positive ideas and enthusiasm of your staff will flow in all sorts of unexpected and wonderful ways. But your need to prepare the way…