This Is How You Can Create a Culture
of Idea-Sharing as a Manager

See also: Management Skills

In 2021, Great Place to Work and Fortune Magazine released a list of the best places to work after surveying employees in over 10,000 companies. With over 100,000 employees across 220 countries, DHL Express made it to the top of the list for the first time.

But what makes companies like DHL great places for workers? For John Pearson, DHL’s chief of HR, it comes down to employee engagement and recognition. The company encourages a culture of idea-sharing and collaboration. This approach to employee engagement is common among some of the world’s largest and most innovative companies.

A culture of idea-sharing drives passion, teamwork, innovation, and productivity. If you're wondering how to foster a culture of idea-sharing in your team, I’ll share six proven strategies to get your team sharing ideas and working together like never before.

1. Have an Open-door Policy

You've probably heard the term "open-door policy" time and again, but what does it mean in practice? HubSpot has the best definition we've seen so far:

"An open-door policy is a set workplace rule that encourages employees to discuss any job-related ideas or issues with their immediate supervisors or any senior-level managers that they feel comfortable discussing these topics with."

Notice that an open-door policy is a "set workplace rule." In other words, you can’t just expect employees to come to you whenever they feel like it. Some might feel comfortable with the idea, but others may shy away. That's why an open door policy should be an official workplace standard that appears in key documents, like your employee handbook. Making the policy official is the first step in incorporating it into your corporate culture.

Here are some other key steps to creating an effective open-door policy.

Clarify Expectations and Set Boundaries

Consider asking your employees what they want from an open-door policy. Would they prefer a specific time or the option to schedule an appointment? These discussions might assist you in determining what your team requires from the policy.

But, how can you let your staff know that you're only ready for serious topics and not idle chatter? Communicate clearly and effectively.

Here's a simple open-door policy template to get you started:

"This organisation runs an open-door policy to allow you to bring concerns to your superior’s attention."

"Urgent matters include, but are not limited to:

  • An employee's threat (or actual act) of physical assault;

  • The threat (or actual act) of stealing or degrading intellectual or physical property;

  • Any employee who threatens others or does something that jeopardizes our staff's safety and security.”

While you can’t cover all urgent concerns, you can use your common sense to determine whether a concern is worth urgent attention. These guidelines may theoretically cover anything a direct supervisor would want to know.

Integrate It into Your Culture

If you genuinely want your open-door policy to work, it must be accompanied by a large-scale cultural shift, and you won’t be the first to do so. Large companies like HP and IBM have made the open-door policy an integral part of their companies. It is also a common practice in the education and skills training sector.

For instance, staff and workers at Saint Louis University can discuss issues, recommendations, or complaints with their direct superiors. If they are not satisfied with their superiors’ responses, they can file a Staff Grievance Policy for redress. Here’s the open-door policy St. Louis published for their employees:

Publishing your open-door policy out there tells your employees that you really have made it a part of your culture. However, you also need to enforce it through measures such as a grievance process. Through the strict enforcement of this policy, you make it clear that you expect people to consider it part of your workplace culture.

2. Ask for Feedback

A good feedback mechanism is the backbone of healthy idea-sharing culture. By gathering feedback from your employees and turning that information into actionable insights, you open the door to fresh ideas that can improve the way your company does business.

The most straightforward feedback mechanism is the employee satisfaction survey. By asking questions that directly impact your team members’ motivation and ability to work, you encourage them to open up and share ideas for process improvement. For instance, if your employees express concerns about shift planning, you can change your workforce management processes to ensure that shifts are distributed fairly.

When you implement a process change based on feedback from your team, you need to emphasize that their feedback played a role in the change. By acknowledging your team members’ contributions, you encourage them to take a more active role in process improvement initiatives.

3. Offer Anonymity for Feedback

You give your employees a way to talk freely and comfortably by providing anonymous avenues for feedback. Here are some avenues through which your employees can anonymously send their thoughts:

  • Surveys: You can use survey platforms such as SurveyMonkey to create spaces where your employees can express their concerns anonymously. However, you can only keep surveys open for a limited time.

  • Email: An anonymous inbox will help you gather employee feedback while maintaining your privacy. It could either be a dedicated company email address or an encrypted third-party email from anonymous email providers like ProtonMail.

  • Feedback software: You may use feedback software such as Free Suggestion Box, which does not require installation and can be accessed from any device with a web browser.

By promoting these anonymous feedback channels to your team, you send a strong signal that you are serious about data privacy and employee safety.

4. Create multiple channels

There isn't just one approach to provide or receive feedback in an idea-sharing environment. Consider which approach would be most appropriate for the situation, the sender, and the receiver.

For example, it’s hard to act on feedback saying that a supervisor isn’t doing a good job when you don’t know the identity of the supervisor or employee who submitted that feedback. At the same time, if all of your feedback is attributed, your team members will not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. Your feedback mechanism should contain a mix of anonymous and attributed channels.

You may also consider the merits of face-to-face communication versus written communication. Because of time constraints, face-to-face feedback forces people to name the most urgent issues they’re facing. On the other hand, written feedback lets team members discuss their concerns and ideas in more detail.

Finally, you need to balance individual and collective feedback. Ideas coming from individuals are essential as they offer unique insights into how you can improve the way you run your business. However, collective feedback through channels such as focus groups allows people from different parts of your business to brainstorm together and refine their ideas.

Social Media recognition

5. Offer Incentives

Incentives are effective at promoting a culture of idea sharing. For instance, you can provide a small token to team members who provide ideas for process improvements. However, to save costs, you can limit the rewards to people whose ideas got implemented.

Sometimes, you don’t even have to offer a prize for employee-led initiatives. You can recognize them online through an email blast or a dedicated page in your corporate intranet. You may also use social media, such as LinkedIn or Facebook, to recognize these employees:

When you publicly acknowledge your staff, they work more to show off their well-deserved gratitude. However, you also need to consider their privacy and preferences – if an individual contributor prefers to remain anonymous, don’t broadcast their name by any means. Instead, try to find another way to recognize them without revealing their identity, such as adding a confidential note to their personnel file.

6. Listen to Both Good and Bad Ideas

If you're not willing to hear what your staff have to share, don't make the promise to listen to them. You must be ready to receive both favorable and negative feedback.

If an employee is persistent about an idea that you don’t think is feasible, you still need to consider it seriously. No matter how incredible it may sound at first, an idea can still contain workable elements that you can use in more practical applications.

However, when you’ve created a working concept around your employees’ feedback, you need to explain it concisely. Don’t use buzzwords, even if you are tempted to hard-sell the concept to stakeholders.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

In Closing

Innovating requires a culture of sharing ideas. After all, opinions and ideas would be the fuel if organizational innovation were a car. With that comparison, the more concepts and ideas you collect, the better. This is why your employees must become comfortable discussing their thoughts.

Once you've figured out how to make this approach work, it'll create a positive feedback loop in your entire operating model. As more individuals offer ideas and more ideas are implemented, you will inspire others to participate as well, furthering the loop.

About the Author

Owen Jones is the Senior Content Marketer at ZoomShift, an online schedule maker app. He is an experienced SaaS marketer specializing in content marketing, CRO, and FB advertising. He likes to share his knowledge with others to help them increase results.