MADISON, Wis. (6/7/10)--Findings from the Filene Research Institute show statistically that good ideas are just as likely to come from the front line as from managers and that job tenure and education levels are weak predictors of who has quality ideas. Research also shows that employees don’t speak up often enough. Therefore, it’s dangerous for leaders to assume they know who at their credit union has good ideas. What’s worse is that many leaders assume good ideas will find them--dangerous again, Filene said. “Employee Voice and (Missed) Opportunities for Learning in Credit Unions” follows an 18-month study by doctorate degree researchers Ethan Burris, University of Texas at Austin; James Detert, Cornell University; and David Harrison, Pennsylvania State University. They solicited ideas from thousands of employees at 11 small to large credit unions, and examined how those ideas were treated by credit union leadership. The results are an in-depth analysis of employee “voice” at credit unions. The researchers describe several findings:
* Demographic and psychological variables--including age, gender, tenure and even education level--do not correspond with idea quality; in other words, good ideas come from everywhere. * About 61% of employees surveyed indicated that they had more ideas than what they ultimately communicated to their supervisors. * Formal upward-reporting mechanisms are less efficient at getting ideas to senior leaders; instead, leaders who actively seek ideas, demonstrate openness, and follow up tend to elicit more voice. * Employees may need coaching to guarantee that they present ideas effectively--for example, by “selling issues” in economic or stakeholder terms and by choosing effective tone and language.
Beyond describing how ideas move in an organization, the research offers four imperatives for leaders to capitalize on in getting ideas from all levels of the credit union. Leaders should:
* Spread a wide net. The research shows statistically that across the 11 credit unions, good ideas are simmering at all levels. * Emphasize voice with mid-level managers. Local managers, especially branch leaders, are critical in getting good ideas to the top. * Actively solicit ideas. Leaders who slide down the organizational chart in search of new ideas, rather than waiting on ideas to bubble up, have much more success. They add to that success by personally following up on quality ideas. * Train for voice. Even a good idea won’t survive poor presentation. Train employees to couch ideas in terms of benefits for the overall organization.
Filene Chief Research Officer George Hofheimer and Filene Research Director Ben Rogers will discuss the report’s findings live Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST. To register for the complimentary live “Lunch with Ed” videocast, use the link.