Innovation : Siemens Find an Unlimited Source of Ideas

Paul Sloane is the author of ten books on lateral puzzles, creative problem-solving and lateral leadership. He is the founder of Destination-Innovation, a consultancy that helps organizations develop the vision, culture and process of innovation. His book, "The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills", is published by Kogan Page.

Contact Paul at IdeasUK is available at


Does your business have an effective employee suggestions scheme ? An increasing number of organisations in the both private and public sectors are finding that they can drive innovation and reduce cost by moving their suggestion box from the canteen wall to the intranet.

Siemens Automation and Drives is a good example. They employ 400 people in Congleton, Cheshire making electric motor drives. Their scheme is called Ideas Unlimited and last year it generated over 4000 suggestions of which 2979 were implemented. The total savings were over £770,000 ($1.44m). Howard Ball administers the scheme part-time. The key is simplicity he explained when he addressed the national conference of ideasUK, a non-commercial association dedicated to employee suggestion schemes and recognition processes

There are no forms and no paperwork. The intranet application has just four screens – entering the idea, evaluating, accepting or rejecting and implementing. Every manager acts as an evaluator. Payments are made in the form of vouchers – maximum £50 ($90) – on acceptance of the idea. Howard Ball is convinced that small rewards and recognition on acceptance are a better incentive than larger rewards delayed until implementation. 

Another interesting aspect of the Siemens scheme is that they publish league tables of ideas implemented by department with awards for the most successful departments. Managers are incentivised to accept and implement ideas.

Emma Akerman at Siemens suggested that a component be made out of galvanised steel instead of stainless steel. The idea was accepted and will save around £60,000 a year. She says, ‘The fact that you can put in suggestions on-line makes it easier, and knowing you can contribute ideas means you take more interest in your work.’

The main problem that had to be overcome according to Howard Ball was getting factory workers to use computers. They were not regular PC users so a training and help programme was put in place. Another thing to watch out for is evaluator overload – you have to give time and recognition to those who assess the suggestions. But overall Ideas Unlimited is a big success. Last year they had a target of six implemented ideas per employee and they achieved more than seven. This year’s target is nine. Howard’s final piece of advice is this, ‘Keep benchmarking, keep involving and keep consulting.’

© Copyright Paul Sloane, 2005

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