Crowdsourcing the Employee Suggestion Box process

(Originally posted @

There’s always lots of discussion (and some energy) about how to maintain institutional knowledge. Especially, if you are behind the Fire Wall.

God, I hate that word ‘institutional’. It makes me think of Nurse Ratchad and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.

Where everyone is on lock down OR as Murphy said “ I’m here to cooperate with you a hundred percent. A hundred percent. I’ll be just right down the line with ya’. You watch.”

Companies tend to operate this way — especially when it comes to figuring out how track of all documentation in the company. I am talking about Power Point presentations, Word Docs and Spreadsheets.

It’s difficult to be like Combine (the nickname for the hospital in the movie mentioned above) and force people to conform. Especially when it comes to retaining Institutional Knowledge… or shall we say ‘Good Old Employee Know-How”

Yes, management is faced with a revolving door of Gen Yers, going in and out of their company, and the Boomers, who are make up the bulk of the folks retiring these days. And of course, there’s also the trend that people are changing jobs more often.

Finally, even when employees are in a company, research shows that 70% our not engaged, 20% are actively disengaged, and 50% are not particular committed.

So, what are companies going to do? Who are companies going to call?

Very few companies really plan for retaining ‘Employee Know-How’. They just wing it! I can’t tell you how many companies I have worked for and consulted with, who try and to introduce multiple collaborative technologies, hoping that one will stick to the wall like Spaghetti. Instead of collaborating on a broad basis to determine how to handle this, these decisions are usually dictated by someone at the top. Or they are just tested out by some ‘take-initiative kind of guy’ launches something without really telling everyone in the company.

(You can guess where I am going with this — Employee-Crowd Sourcing)

But collaboration, sharing, and employee-sourcing are similar to almost every other successful community of practice (why don’t the social media guys use the term ‘Community of Practice?). It requires some TLC and a thoughtful approach. While I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, here are some recommendations on how to make those noodles really stick against the wall:

1. Start during the Employee On-Boarding process: Include information about how to collect and store and share information during an employee’s orientation process.

2. Create a culture of Learn – Teach – Learn: At Intuit, management stressed that once you learn something, it is really important to teach it to others. And the more people who know how to do something, the more likely those learnings would remain in the company

3. Establish a Forum for employees to share their learnings and experiences (and require them to upload their presentations into a database ((something like Basecamp ( or Quickbase ( that can be accessed by anyone in the company. Yes, this requires trusting your employees : )

4. Anoint a note-takers: This sounds so simple, but imagine if every one kept meeting notes using the same tool, and making this information accessible to everyone. (Peer Pressure is a good thing to get people to do this: )

5. Tie the task of sharing learnings to individual goals: This one is debatable because no one likes to be told what to do, but if part of an employees evaluation is based on internal information sharing, then the likelihood of keep this collaborative knowledge is more likely

6. Start at the top: If senior management does not walk the talk, then forget it. I am always surprised about how many senior managers don’t have anyone take notes at their meetings and share it with others. No wonder sharing information is not in the DNA of the company.

7. Create Cross-Functional Teams to review the process: Establish a team to review how the tools are being used – and even review metrics to review the number of times people are accessing the tool, accessing certain files, etc.

8. Collaborative Framework or Structure: This goes back to the people, process and technology – and making sure each of these areas is addressed, BUT also making sure the technology isn’t driving the other two.

9. Create an online forum (not necessarily a community forum) for employees to share, comment on and vote on ideas:

Creativity and innovation is a group process — so make sure you have tools to encourage individuals to treat work as a team sport. (Remember that the Tools and the Technology shouldn’t drive the sharing of Employee Know-How)

10. Leverage learnings of Game Theory: Reward and recognize people for their contributions — but let their co-workers reward them. Also know that Employee-Sourcing is a team sport – and that outcomes are not determined in isolation

Building up an organization’s knowledge is an evolutionary process. When I worked at KBtoys/eToys, it seemed like we tried a new online system ever quarter for employees to upload their power points. It was only after we put up the White Flag and brought together people from different parts of the company, did we agree on a process, a technology and the key guides (to help sheppard things along), did we get into a good rhythm for storing information. Again, like all online communities and social networks, things don’t happen overnight. It takes time and energy – and a team effort.

Soon, I will talk about the ROI impact of building up Employee Know-How.


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