A few years after helping a medium-sized insurance company launch its idea system, I happened to bump into the CEO. I asked him how his company’s idea system was going.
“It’s going very well,” he replied. (During the course of our brief conversation, it emerged that the system was getting approximately 25 implemented ideas per employee.) “In fact, if I tried to stop it now, I would probably have a rebellion on my hands!”
By contrast, at a large healthcare organization, we could not restrain the executive in charge of launching the idea system from measuring the progress of the launch (across more than 10,000 employees in multiple locations) by the number of teams where she had put up an idea board. Every report began with “We now have more than fifty boards up,” then “Now we are at 150 boards launched” etc.
Wait for previous teams launched to near escape velocity before starting up any more.
A better measure than the number of teams that have gotten started, is the number of teams that have reached escape velocity. A team has reached escape velocity when even if upper management told it there was no further need to work on improvement ideas, it would keep on doing so anyway.
What that CEO of the insurance company was saying was that all his departments had reached escape velocity. On the other hand, because it wasn’t tracking teams that had reached escape velocity, the healthcare organization was setting itself up for trouble, as the training and coaching needs of the new started up areas outstripped the company’s resources dedicated to this purpose.
Although it is a little subjective, it’s not hard to tell if a department has reached escape velocity or not. By watching an idea meeting or two, looking over the ideas the team has implemented so far, and talking with the team members and their supervisor, it is clear when the team finds the exercise worthwhile – and when it is still feeling its way.
One tactic we often use when trying to get departments to escape velocity faster is to ask them to begin by focus on time-saving ideas or ideas on non-value-adding tasks that their teams could stop doing. Almost every time we have seen this tactic used, the resulting ideas have quickly freed up more time per week than the teams needed to work on ideas.