Foosball, and other ways to foster innovation

Posted: March 18, 2012

We asked managers: What do you do to encourage innovation by workers? Foosball was one answer. One firm holds an "idea-of-the-month" competition, and many award cash for innovations. Team-building is also seen as a way to foster initiative.

Here are portions of the company-supplied comments:

Martin Banks

Our firm is constantly moving and improving on the way we do things and, to that end, we hold an idea-of-the-month competition. Employees are encouraged to submit any and all ideas, and a winner is chosen each month and awarded $200.

At the end of the year, usually at our holiday party in December, one of the monthly winners is chosen at random to receive a $1,000 prize.

The winners' ideas in 2011 ranged from reducing our storage space - a cost-saving measure, going electronic with invoicing, FedEx, and banking - a part of our green initiatives, as well as making forms available to our clients online.

Toll Bros. Inc.

All employee are encouraged to continually revisit all our operations and make suggestions to improve the processes. Employees win awards and cash when their suggestions are accepted. Proof that this has worked well is that the company has evolved over its 40-plus years from a small local builder to the best and most respected (and arguably the most profitable) national homebuilding company.

Edmund Optics

Edmund Optics organizes many events and team-building activities to encourage innovation by workers. EO Spirit Week, chili cook-offs, potluck luncheons, poker tournaments, karaoke, Wii and foosball competitions . . . these perks sound more like what is offered by the high school spirit club than a growing global enterprise. But these activities improve employee morale and provide an enhanced workplace environment, which in turn improves productivity and innovation.

SugarHouse Casino

We strive to create an innovative environment from day one. We ask applicants during the interview process several atypical questions that sometimes throw them off-guard. Questions include: "Would you rather have a million dollars or the ability to fly?" There's no right answer - we're just looking for people who can react quickly with a good sense of humor about it.

Once on board, each SugarHouse team member is encouraged to personalize our guests' experiences in his or her own way. For example, we encourage our chefs to create their own special dishes and our bartenders to imagine new beverage offerings, such as "Mummers' Strut," in honor of one of Philly's favorite traditions.

Mastery Charter Schools

Mastery has a dedicated innovation team reporting directly to the CEO. One of our organizational values is "Open Doors" - the idea that anyone can and should be able to talk with anyone else about anything. So classroom teachers can and do bring ideas to the CEO or anyone else in the organization who they think might be interested.

Beyond.com Inc.

We have two mantras at Beyond.com that we follow.

The first is "Projects Are Delivered by Teams in Sync," which stands for "plan, analyze, design, build, test, implement, and support."

Our second motto is "Work Smarter." We work smarter by using technology to automate processes to free up resources for other projects to ensure that we're focusing on strategically growing the business and to ensure that our employees are able to get out of the office at a reasonable time.

KenCrest Services

One way KenCrest encourages innovation from staff is with its River Crest Fund. The fund supports the innovative initiatives of its staff and allows them to put into practice their own ideas for planning, research, advocacy, new business development, revenue enhancement, and the integration of technology. Any KenCrest employee may submit a grant request to the fund. To date, 135 individual projects have been funded $1,000 to $70,000, with a total of $2.5 million granted over eight years.

Vanguard Group

In a business that's dependent on the financial markets, we know we can't control the ultimate investment results we produce for our clients, but we can seek to achieve flawless execution on the things that we can control. So we are firm believers in the value of Six Sigma and other process-improvement programs to enhance quality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. Those tools have become another way to inspire and empower the crew.

Vanguard Unmatchable Excellence (VUE), our version of Six Sigma, formalizes our disciplined approach to day-to-day work on behalf of our clients and renders each person accountable for Vanguard's success. Every crew member has a copy of a booklet called Vanguard Unmatchable Excellence: Why It Matters. The book explains how VUE principles help us to continually evolve and improve as an organization.

Penn Liberty Bank

Oh - that's easy: We listen to our employees. Pat Ward, our CEO, has mentioned on numerous occasions that our employees are the experts doing the job. Their ideas and suggestions have given Penn Liberty Bank the ability to streamline processes while maintaining excellent customer service, which go hand in hand when running a successful company.

TruePosition

TruePosition encourages innovation by monetarily rewarding its employees for new patents throughout the year. There is even an award for the most important and impactful patent filed that year.

Health Partners

Health Partners' long-standing success as a local health plan is due largely to the fact that our leadership is open to ideas and suggestions from every employee. Over the years, we have made it a point to eliminate silos and have created an open, team atmosphere where everyone plays a role, and every employee's contribution is respected and appreciated.

Dudnyk

Five things we do to inspire more innovative ideas:

1) Create a stimulating work environment.

2) Enable our staff to have a personal life.

3) Stay ahead of the curve in compensation.

4) Reward innovation, and drive competitive spirit.

5) Allow people to dream - even during the day.

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