Why Employee Ideas are Useless and How you Avoid Dealing with Them

It’s Friday afternoon, you just finished sending the last email to the CEO and ahead waits a good long weekend. Or so you thought, because just then, in comes the new millennial “what’s-his-name” from sales all energized and full of enthusiasm about his new employee idea…

And right there, your plan to leave before four that Friday went down the drain – or did it?

This post offers you actionable ways to get out of sticky situations like the one above, without coming across as a non-innovative manager (because we all know that this wouldn’t resonate well with the board and your CEO). But that’s not all! It also presents you with reasons for why such ideas are indeed useless and why you don’t need to listen to them. All of this, so you can finally ignore them with a peaceful mind and a clean conscience.

Useless Ideas

So let’s start at the very beginning, by giving you some insight into why it is that employee ideas are so incredibly futile. Below, you’ll find four, well argued and researched points, that you can always go back to, if you feel like you need a refresher or simply reaffirm your beliefs.

1. What do people even know when not part of management?

Very little is the correct answer. Yeah, yeah, they might deal with frontline issues and your clients every day, but their lack of understanding of overall company strategy and directives makes their input, (say it with me) ‘USELESS!’.

The chances that they know the company strategy and direction – given their absence in the boardroom, are slimmer than Heidi Klum in her heyday. So, most likely their ideas are completely off-the-mark. Rather, they should simply do what you pay them to do, namely to act on the board’s ideas.

2. But some great things have come from implementing employee ideas?

Well, yes, sort of… Sure, the post-it was an employee idea , and British Airways might have saved $900K annually in fuel costs by decreasing the number of toilet-pipes on flights. And yes, Lego did turn their crisis around by listening to their customers and employees to become the world’s most innovative toymaker. And yes, Adsense comprising 25% of Google’s total revenue was also an employee innovation. Well yeah, it did become one of the most prominent successes of Google. Let’s not forget Amazon Prime… It’s correct that the initiative for free shipping, which would later evolve into Amazon Prime (leading members increasing their spend by 150% ), was also an employee idea.

But this is beside the point I’m making here, namely that employee ideas are useless and should be avoided by all means.

In fact, I bet that it was management that came up with the ideas themselves to avoid losing face. And if that’s not the case, it’s far more likely that they were simply extremely lucky in hiring geniuses on par with Steve Jobs. Afterall, who cares if you can be 3% more effective, all that matters is disruption! (Always, ALWAYS! Turn your nose at incremental or complimentary innovations). To be fair, the chances that Carol from accounting is the next Steve Jobs are negligible and quite frankly not worth sacrificing your valuable time on.

3. You are busy enough as it is

Ideas are like modern jazz, we all pretend to like it to seem cool, but in reality, it’s just a bunch of really poorly coordinated noise. You are a busy person, and you don’t have time to put more on you plate. Dealing with new ideas, would undoubtedly take up a lot of your time and create more noise (meaning that you would have to reschedule that dinner at Hooters and since you already canceled on Chad last time, this is not an option).

Even if you did start listening to ideas, what would you do with all the input and who should initiate it? Implementing a process for capturing these ideas would take months! Not only would you need expensive consulting, but also implementing another new IT system. And we all know that this would put a serious pressure on your resources. Truly, even the thought of this is daunting.

Binders like these are great for storing unwanted employee ideas

4. Why fix it if it ain’t broken?

Why, indeed? The board doesn’t care about ideas. They care about the numbers and solutions to existing problems, that’s why you have SMART goals after all. You deliver that every day by employing proven and established methods. And… we all do well to remember that “slow and steady wins the race”.

Nokia is still alive, right? And they are the textbook example of what happens when you stop innovating, so if that’s the worst that can happen it really isn’t that bad. Also, what are the chances that your niche should be hit by the otherwise omnipresent disruption? Not too big, at least not big enough for your employees to be wasting their time on coming up with ideas that are going to be lost anyhow.

Avoiding Ideas in Practice

Now that we’ve settled that most employee ideas are useless, please also feel free to replace ‘employee’ with ‘customer’ at your convenience. And let’s turn to how to get you out of this sticky situation without looking like another old manager stuck in the past of top-down management. Because we all know that straight out telling people that you don’t care about their ideas is the greatest faux pas since this eternal handshake.

The most awkward and faux-pas handshake in history. This is where you don’t wanna end

Also, you would most likely end up on a page like this (oh yes, that’s a page for people to rant about their bosses). So, let’s turn to ways where you avoid listening to ideas and remain a good manager in the eyes of both the board and your employees.

1. Ask him to fill out a ten-page form

This is neat, by telling him to fill out a form, you follow company guidelines. Then nobody can claim you don’t listen to ideas. All this while you know that he will never actually take the time to calculate and fill out the ROI of his proposed project. Meaning that you don’t have to initiate new things and you can continue business as usual.

Bonus! If you have an intranet that nobody uses or an email inbox that nobody checks, this will also do excellently. The combination of lack of collaboratively, targeted innovation and general usage will quickly kill the idea before you have to spend unnecessary time on it.

2. Bring it up at the all-hands next month

If you don’t have put together a ten-pager for ideas yet, ask him to bring it up at All-hands meetings. This truly is a double-edged sword that can help you cut through ideas in two ways: 1) if the All-hands is well in the future, chances are that the idea is long lost and 2) even if it’s not, you know how the ideas never go anywhere from here, because of a nonexistent process.

Bonus! If you want to make a good figure, endorse the idea at the All-hands and come across as an innovative manager, to the other departments and management. If you decide to pull this one off, make sure you keep away from structuring the process too much, you wanna keep to the very high-level of things, otherwise, you might be forced to take it to action.

3. You have tried this before

This one is as easy as it is effective. Simply tell the guy that you have tried and failed at this before. Sure, it might have been five years ago with a slightly different focus, department, and product. But still, the general idea was sort of the same.. or they at least both involved something with Facebook or Social Media of some sorts…

Get a sign like this but replace the word “yes” with the word “no”

4. Talk him out of it

This is a tricky one and requires great communication skills, but if you manage to pull it off it is also highly effective. However, this method is also more argumentative and could end up taking more of your time. So be aware – you might risk coming across as a non-innovative manager. A way to avoid this is by telling them it’s more under another department and let him bounce around until he loses track of the idea.

Bonus! Tell him to go to a department that is located at a geographical distance, this way there are small chances that he knows anyone there and that he can actually reach them with his idea.

So there you go, the complete and highly useful guide on how you can avoid wasting time on useless employee ideas. In the very unlikely case that you should have ideas on how to improve this piece, please fill out this form, we’ll review it and get back to you later. In the meantime, if you are just a tad curious as to how you can deal with ideas, in a time-efficient, collaboratively and result-driven way head over here.

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