Companies talk about wanting to innovate, but most don't make it easy, or in some cases, even socially acceptable for employees to suggest new ideas. Even today most employees are afraid to suggest new ideas. In many cases they don't want to be accused of having a dumb idea (looking stupid). Or they are worried about "image risk." In a study done by the University of Kansas and Texas A&M they found employees worried coworkers will think negatively of the if they came up with better ways of doing things. They found that in some cases employees were afraid they'll "provoke anger among others who are comfortable with the status quo." Who wants to make their co-workers upset with them?
So what can be done? Are you stuck with never getting those great ideas from your employees? Well, the good news from the KU / Texas A&M study is no, companies can create an environment where employees are comfortable in sharing their ideas. The study found the key was creating a sense of safety. Provide an environment where differences are tolerated and employees are encouraged in trying new things and even being wrong. I know that was one of the hardest "lessons" I had to encourage at my last start-up – suggest a new and different idea. Don't worry about it being dumb (ok, to a point). I tried to show them by example also. Personally, I mainly did it by asking why. Why do we do it this way? Is it because we always have and we haven't looked at the alternatives in a while? Once the leadership shows it is ok to have new ideas and even encourages them (truly encourages, not just saying empty words) employees will start sharing their ideas and suggestions.
Some of my other posts on innovation: