By Bruce Beer, PMP:

Have you ever thought of a great improvement to content, process, design, product etc., and respectfully suggested this to your manager? What was his or her response? It could well have been something like “Great idea, I love it. I will see if I can introduce it into the next release”. You wait with baited breath, then a new release comes out, and guess what, none of your ideas have been included. How does this make you feel – motivated? Enthusiastic about making more suggestions for improvement? Happy that your contribution has been ignored? Probably not!

OK, so let us flip this around – you are now the manager. You have released a product (say a new software tool) that will be used by several Team Leads and their staff. Following introduction of this new product one of your experienced Team Leads sends you an email containing suggestions from him and his team for improvements and/or corrections. What do you do?

Scenario 1 – You recognize the efforts of the Team Lead and thank him and his team for their time and interest. However, you don’t really want to update your product. You have been working on its development for some time now and you don’t think there is much (if any) room for improvement. You  don’t think there is much that can improve what you have already done. You file the suggestions in the round filing cabinet and move on to other things.

Result – The Team Lead hears a deafening silence after the initial recognition of his suggestions. He waits expectantly for the next release of the product, then eagerly looks to see which of his suggestions have been incorporated. He sees that nothing he and his team suggested has been used. They all feel pretty de-motivated, and although they continue to use the product, neither he nor his team bother to try any further efforts at improvement. They are frustrated because they can see potential improvements that would make the product better, but the product stays static.

Scenario 2 – You recognize the efforts of the Team Lead and his team and realize that they have taken their time, effort and experience to create suggestions for improvement. You realize that as much as you feel you are as close to perfect as you can get, it is worth considering all suggestions for improvement – some of them may actually be valid! So you compare the Team Lead’s suggestions with the existing product and realize that some of the suggestions do, in fact, enhance the product and may introduce improvements. You keep an open mind, and although you do not consider that every suggestion should be incorporated in the product, you do incorporate those with merit. You then write to the Team Lead thanking him and his team, saying which suggestions have been used and which ones have not, with an explanation, and thank them for helping to make a better product.

Result – Team Lead and his team are proud that some of their suggestions have been incorporated and feel a sense of “ownership” in the updated and improved product. They feel motivated to help with future continuous improvement efforts on this and other products, recognizing that not everything will be used but at least they are contributing to better products by continuous improvement.

What sort of manager do you think is eventually going to be more successful with better products? The one who ignores suggestions from his team or the one that uses suggestion as continuous improvement and lessons learned as useful tools? Who do you think has the better motivated and more innovative teams? Which type of manager do you think will have better prospects for advancement? Ummmm, let me think about this!

Which manager are you?