Quick Stats

Quick Stats

    You are here

    Tapping Your Employees' Brains for New Ideas

    Want creative ideas? Ask and you shall receive.

    By Terry McKenna, Convenience Store Coaches

    How many employees work for you? How many ideas on how to improve your business have your employees given you over the years -- quality improvement ideas in the areas of customer service, retailing and merchandising, and new products and services?

    If your employees aren’t giving you ideas on how to improve your business, then you’re paying for their hands and backs to perform their jobs, but not their brains. The McDonald’s Egg McMuffin and Starbucks Frappuccino were ideas that cashiers came up with, not management. How much additional profit do you think those two ideas generated? Wouldn’t you like to have an Egg McMuffin kind of idea for your business? 

    One good idea could become a game changer. It will take many ideas to get to that one game changer, but you have to start somewhere and the way to start is to ask.


    A great question reframes an issue and forces you to look at it in a different way. It will cause you to challenge your assumptions. Great questions begin with phrases like: “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” and “How might we…” 

    Phrasing questions like this ignites the imagination. The Polaroid camera came out of a 3-year-old girl asking the question, “Why do we have to wait for the picture?”      


    Sadly, there are many folks in leadership positions who feel they have to have all the answers since they are afraid of looking vulnerable in the eyes of their employees. They feel that if they start asking questions, their employees will lose confidence in them.

    Companies known for innovation -- Apple and Google, for example -- are led by inquisitive leaders. It starts with the leaders and flows downward to create a culture of inquiry, where people feel they can ask questions without necessarily knowing the answer. You don’t hear leaders at Apple and Google using the all-too-often phrase, “If you are going to bring a problem to me, you’d better have solutions.”

    Great questions don’t get answered in 10 minutes. They make take seven months. You want your employees to bring you those great questions, and maybe the whole company ends up working on them.


    Here is a low-tech, low-cost way to help your employees capture ideas that jump into their heads at a moment’s notice.  Purchase one of those spiral school tablets and place it at the transaction counter. Section it off into the categories for which you would like to see new ideas on how to improve the business. For example, customer service, foodservice, promotions, retailing and merchandising, appearance, teamwork, suggestive selling, employee engagement, etc.

    Attach a pen to the tablet like the banks do at their transaction desks. Since ideas are fleeting, you want to make it easy for your employees to capture them when the inspiration strikes.


    Tell your employees that coming up with ideas on how to improve the business is now a new job expectation you have of them, just like controlling drive-offs. You get what you expect! If you want ideas from your employees, then create the expectation. 

    Don’t establish a goal for the number of ideas as this will put pressure on your employees and force them to come up with any old idea just so they can say they met the goal. Don’t incent your employees with cash and prizes (extrinsic) as this will only backfire on you and defeat the purpose. Intrinsic motivation (satisfaction from within) will serve as the best motivation strategy. 

    Show appreciation for the ideas you receive, and let your employees know how much those ideas mean to you and the business. Recognize and show appreciation for all the ideas submitted, not just the keepers. As I previously mentioned, it takes a lot of ideas before you arrive at that Egg McMuffin idea.

    In conclusion, if you’re tapping the brainpower of all your employees and your competition isn’t, you’ve just created a very powerful competitive advantage for your company.

    By Terry McKenna, Convenience Store Coaches
    • About Terry McKenna Terry McKenna is principal and co-founder of Convenience Store Coaches Inc. and Employee Performance Strategies Inc., where he helps convenience retailers achieve greater financial results by optimizing their workforce. McKenna can be reached at (910) 458-5227 or [email protected] He also maintains a blog at www.terrymckenna.typepad.com.

    Related Content

    Related Content