Most companies encourage employees to offer innovative ideas for tackling problems and growing the bottom line. But, not every suggestion is a viable solution. It’s important to know the right way to turn down employees’ ideas without discouraging them from providing more suggestions.
Giving the employee a tangible explanation for why an idea won’t work is one way to encourage more suggestions, according to a study that will be published in an upcoming special issue of the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.
Here are five additional ways to dismiss an employee’s idea while encouraging them to continue to offer innovative suggestions.
Give their idea your full attention.
When an employee comes to you with an idea, put your smartphone away, stop looking at your computer, and give them your full attention, said Terrie Nathan, Chief Empowerment Officer at Strong Girl Spirit. “It’s important that your body language also reflect that you’re listening,” she said.
After an employee outlines an idea, engage them in a brief discussion about the idea and ask them a few questions about it, said human resources consultant Lynne Curry, Ph.D. “Let them know what you like about the idea and give them a reason why the timing isn’t right or why it doesn’t fully align your department’s goals,” she said.
Take the time to explain why the idea won’t work right now—maybe you don’t have the budget or the staff to implement it. Encourage them to refine their idea now that they know about any constraints or concerns, and invite them to submit an updated suggestion once they’ve thought through all the perimeters, said MaryBeth Hyland, founder of SparkVision.
Often employees come up with an idea without knowing that a similar one failed in the past or not realizing there’s a set timeline or budget for a project. If your company tried a similar idea in the past but it failed, instead of just telling the employee that their idea is bound to fail again, explain what happened. Outline three reasons the idea didn’t work, said Rachael Bozsik, a thought leadership coach for high-achieving female entrepreneurs. Then encourage them to modify the idea, taking into account the new information you’ve provided.
Create a feedback loop.
Keep in mind that when you dismiss an employee’s idea, you’re really just giving them feedback, said Nathan. “Create an environment where they feel like they can talk with you, they will be heard, and they will get a fair shot,” she said. This will help employees expect a discussion about their idea, not just a simple yes or no.
Whether you like their idea or not, be sure to thank your employee for offering a suggestion. For instance, Nathan recommended saying, “Thank you for your idea and your time. I know you put a lot of effort into this.” Explain the reason the idea won’t work and close with, “Keep the ideas coming. I love the creativity behind it.”
It’s important to show employees that their ideas are valued, Hyland said. She recommended saying, “I’m really grateful you brought this up. It’s always important to hear fresh ideas. Unfortunately, we’re not in a position to implement that idea right now.” Then explain why.
Give employees opportunities to brainstorm.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of ideas your employees are bringing you, Hyland suggested creating a process for submitting ideas. For instance, hold a monthly innovation meeting and invite employees to present their suggestions then.
You could also encourage employees to regularly bounce ideas off each other. “Once they talk their idea through with a colleague, it might not sound as good,” Nathan said. This will give them a chance to refine their idea before presenting it to you.
Consider inviting employees who bring you the most ideas to start an employee task force; encourage them to meet biweekly or monthly to brainstorm on a specific topic you’ve selected, Curry said.
“There are ways to encourage non-judgmental brainstorming and empower employees to come up with ideas,” Boszik said.
Supporting your employees’ growth
When you dismiss ideas this way, you actually support your employees’ growth by helping them shift perspective, be curious, and think critically. And providing opportunities for learning and development is a top driver of engagement—it’s a win-win.