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James Brewton


Employee Idea Campaigns

Embrace this powerful tool for boosting healthcare delivery and the bottom line

Published: Monday, October 19, 2015 - 13:04

Keeping every healthcare employee focused on continuous improvement, every day, is a huge challenge. It’s natural for people to lose sight of long-term goals and objectives due to the pressures of daily responsibilities. One powerful tool executives can use to keep continuous improvement at the top of everyone’s list is the employee idea campaign (EIC).

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, changes in reimbursement rates, and increasing competition, the new normal for hospitals and healthcare systems is determining how to provide higher patient satisfaction and care outcomes, but at lower cost. To address this enormous challenge, many organizations have launched lean, Six Sigma, and other continuous improvement efforts. Although many organizations have found some success with these programs, many employees’ improvement ideas go unheard unless they’re participating in a formal improvement team.

Even healthcare organizations with active employee suggestion systems or established kaizen programs are challenged to keep interest and participation high. This isn’t a knock on the performance improvement strategy or methodologies, but it is where an EIC can help.

EICs are short, high-energy programs focused on soliciting employee ideas for improving performance for a specific organizational challenge—e.g., operational cost, patient safety, or patient satisfaction. No one knows better than the employee doing the job where opportunities for improvement exist and the many ways to realize them.

Key factors of an employee idea campaign (EIC)

Successful EICs have eight factors incorporated in their design:
1. Short duration
2. High employee participation
3. Focus on small improvements
4. Easy to run
5. Immediate employee recognition
6. Rapid idea evaluation and implementation
7. Visible and active involvement from executives and department managers
8. Fun for everyone

Let’s look at these factors at greater length:

1. Short duration. EICs are designed to run for a short period of time to keep employee motivation high. The most successful EICs are implemented over a 30-day period, which allows the time to introduce the campaign and maintain high interest for maximum employee participation and idea generation.

2. High employee participation. Successful EICs are designed to maximize employee participation. High participation is attained through carefully planned communications and motivational materials, including posters, banners, stand-ups, and tent cards promoting the theme of the campaign. In addition, employee awards are distributed for each idea submitted; campaign buttons, coffee mugs and t-shirts are commonly used. Successfully designed and administered EICs typically attain employee participation rates of 80 percent or higher and reach an overall ideas-per-employee rate of 2.5 during the campaign. For an organization with 1,000 eligible employees, more than 2,000 total ideas can be expected from a successful EIC.

3. Focus on small improvements. Successful EICs are based upon the quick and easy kaizen method. They focus on small improvements—changes that can be made by the employees themselves in their own work areas. However, by encouraging employees to look for small improvements, ideas with larger effects are also identified, leading to even greater improvement for the organization.

4. Easy to run. Successful EICs are designed to be easy to run. An overly complicated campaign design will ensure frustration, lack of employee participation, and poor results. The primary emphasis should be on making idea submission and decision-making simple and straightforward.

5. Immediate employee recognition. Successful EICs immediately recognize an employee for submitting an improvement idea during the campaign, whether or not the employee’s idea is approved for implementation.

6. Rapid idea evaluation and implementation. Successful EICs establish a simple yet rapid process for approving employee ideas. With the focus on improvements that employees can make right in their own work units, most ideas meeting specified criteria are approved immediately. Employees’ ideas that affect more than just their work areas are evaluated by a special committee comprised of a carefully selected team of department managers, using two weeks or less as the target for finalizing any idea approval decision. Successful EICs also have a process for ensuring rapid implementation of approved ideas so that potential benefits are not delayed. Sixty percent or more of employee ideas in successful EICs can be implemented by the employee themselves with coaching and guidance from the employee’s supervisor.

7. Visible and active involvement from executives and department managers. Successful EICs have visible executive management participation. Executives can get involved by sending emails announcing the purpose of the campaign and encouraging everyone’s participation, conducting weekly drawings for prizes, and walking the gemba (where the real work is performed). Leaders should encourage everyone to submit their improvement ideas, recognize those employees who submit ideas, and thank everyone for their contribution during the idea campaign.

8. Fun for everyone. Successful EICs use light-hearted graphics and captions for promotional materials to help make the campaign fun for everyone. Drawings for prizes and other activities during the campaign help keep the campaign exciting. The greater the fun and excitement, the greater the employee participation and the greater the results!

Designing your employee idea campaign

EICs can be deployed in a number of ways: 
• As a fun, standalone organizational improvement campaign
• As a way to add fun and energy to an existing lean/kaizen program
• As a fun way to energize an existing employee suggestion program
• As a fun and effective way to launch a new employee suggestion program or continuous improvement transformation

Once the purpose of your EIC has been determined, answer carefully the following 10 EIC design questions: 
1. What is the goal for your EIC? 
2. How long will your EIC run? 
3. How will your EIC be promoted?
4. Who will be eligible to participate?
5. What are the key roles and responsibilities?
6. Who will be your EIC leader?
7. What is the calendar and step-by-step activities for your EIC?
8. How will employee ideas be submitted, evaluated, and implemented?
9. How will employee ideas be recognized and rewarded?
10. How will the EIC’s progress be monitored?

Again, let’s look at each of these questions more deeply: 

1. What is the goal for your EIC? Although it is OK to have an overall goal for your EIC (e.g., $1,000,000 cost savings, 2,000 ideas, etc.), it is more important to state the goal of your EIC in terms every employee understands and believes is within their ability to attain—small changes vs. “the big idea.” Our company’s cost improvement campaign, which we call Think Lower Cost, has a simple goal: for everyone to think of ways to save at least a dollar a day. The more employees believe that they can make a difference, the more they will try to make a difference. Although the goal is small, it doesn’t prevent bigger ideas from being submitted. Once you get employees looking everywhere, every day for improvement, a small goal can be easily exceeded.

2. How long will your EIC run? By design, EICs are short, high-energy initiatives. Our recommendation is a 30-day campaign from start to finish. By having a short duration, you create a high level of interest and get maximum participation.

3. How will your EIC be promoted? From our experience, we know that continuous, fun promotion of your campaign is the single greatest contributor to its success. Simply stated, the more fun and exciting the promotion of your EIC, the greater the results. Give careful thought to campaign promotion when designing your EIC. Campaign promotion includes:
• Visible and active involvement of the executives, department managers, and supervisors of your healthcare organization 
• Promotional collateral, including banners, posters, tent cards, stand-ups, and fun awards reminding every employee of the goal of the campaign and encouraging everyone’s participation

4. Who will be eligible to participate? Successful EICs encourage every employee to participate. No employee—even executives and physicians—should be excluded. However, participation should be completely voluntary.

5. What are the key roles and responsibilities required for a successful EIC? Successful EICs have the following roles that, together, drive and ensure your EIC’s success:
• EIC leader
• EIC leadership team
• EIC idea action committee
• Organization executives
• Organization managers
• Organization supervisors
• Organization employees

I want to take a break from addressing these questions to look at these roles more closely:

EIC leader. The EIC Leader has overall responsibility for the EIC’s operation. The EIC leader should be a person recognized by the healthcare organization for his or her leadership skills and ability to get things done. The EIC leader has the following key responsibilities in leading the implementation of an EIC:
• Briefing every individual about the EIC, its purpose and how it will be run, and each person’s specific responsibilities in making it a success
• Finalizing the employee idea submission, evaluation, and implementation processes
• Planning and placement of EIC promotional materials
• Tracking and reporting EIC progress
• Engaging with employees and encouraging them to submit their ideas

EIC leadership team. Select a team to support the EIC leader in planning and running the EIC. Once selected, the EIC leader briefs the team on the EIC, its purpose, and how it will be run, and then assigns each team member specific campaign activities to ensure a successful rollout.

EIC idea-action committee. Select and mobilize a committee to determine the feasibility and attractiveness of employee ideas beyond the authority of the employee’s supervisor or department manager. Organize the committee based on the following criteria:
• Enable the committee with enough authority to make decisions regarding idea implementation
• Each committee member represents one or more major functional area of the healthcare organization
• The committee should be of sufficient size to ensure that ideas received are rapidly reviewed and acted upon

Organization executives. The support of a healthcare organization’s executives is critical to the success of an EIC. The executive committee has the following responsibilities during an EIC: 
• Announcing the EIC and its purpose to the organization 
• Selecting the EIC leader 
• Selecting EIC idea-action committee members 
• Speaking at weekly EIC rallies 
• Presenting EIC awards 
• Recognizing employees for their ideas and participation

Organization managers. Your organization’s department managers have the following responsibilities during the EIC:
• Encourage each of their supervisors (EIC idea coaches) to achieve 100-percent participation in the EIC.
• Support their supervisors in evaluating and determining the next steps for the ideas department employees have submitted.
• Respond to requests from the EIC idea-action committee to evaluate an idea affecting their department, but submitted by an employee from another department 
• Recognize their employees for their ideas and participation.
• Recognize their idea coaches for their EIC progress.

You can ensure department management participation during the EIC by making the EIC part of their department meeting agenda during EIC month and holding brief weekly meetings to review the department’s EIC scorecard.

Organization supervisors. A healthcare organization’s supervisors—often called “idea coaches” during the EIC—have one of the most important roles to play in making your EIC a success. As such, EIC idea coaches are selected for their leadership abilities. EIC idea coaches are responsible for briefing their assigned employees about the EIC (e.g., it’s purpose, how it works, how to submit ideas, etc.), stimulating employee participation within their assigned areas, and awarding employees for each idea submitted. EIC idea coaches also maintain a weekly EIC scorecard for their area that captures their unit’s EIC progress (e.g., percent employee participation, average number of ideas per employee, etc.) for each campaign idea collection week.

Organization employees. During the EIC, an organization’s employees have the following key roles:
• To identify as many opportunities and submit as many ideas as they can that meet the EIC challenge no matter how small 
• To work with their EIC idea coach in implementing as many approved ideas as they have authority to do

6. Who will be your EIC leader? The selection of the EIC leader is probably the single most important decision to the success of an EIC. Give careful thought to who in your healthcare organization would be the best at this important role. The qualities for an EIC leader include:
• Respected member of the healthcare organization
• Good communicator
• Integrity
• Enthusiasm
• Competence
• Ability to delegate tasks
• Team-building skills
• Project management skills

Common areas and departments in which EIC leaders are found include human resources, continuous improvement teams, and administration.

7. What are the calendar and step-by-step activities for your EIC? To ensure a smooth rollout of the EIC, develop a calendar that clearly outlines the specific campaign activities to be performed for each day of the campaign and by whom.

8. How will employee ideas be submitted, evaluated, and implemented? A key to the success of an EIC is rapid evaluation and implementation of employee ideas. Design and put into action a simple approach for idea submission, evaluation, and implementation. Because of the short duration of EICs, there’s no need to purchase an idea-management software solution to track and manage the idea submission, evaluation, and implementation process. However, if your organization already has an idea management system, use it.

9. How will employees be awarded and recognized? A debate that has been waged for years by organizational psychologists is whether or not to use cash as a way to incentivize and reward employees for their ideas (e.g., 10% of documented savings). We believe there is no need for large cash awards for EICs. We recommend fun awards that are not monetary and publicly recognizing employees for participating in an EIC. Coffee mugs, t-shirts, campaign buttons, tickets for two to a restaurant, a choice parking spot for a week, publishing an employee’s photo with recognition for her idea in the organization’s newsletter—these have all been used successfully to generate participation and increase the ideas submitted during EICs.

10. How will the EIC’s progress be monitored? Metrics used to monitor the progress of EICs are:
• Activity metrics, which are leading indicators of campaign performance, measure employee effort during an IEC. The two standard activity metrics generally used are employee participation percentage and number of ideas submitted per employee. Activity metrics are tracked daily and reported at the end of each idea collection week to communicate EIC campaign results to the entire organization and to create friendly competition among healthcare organization departments. Activity metrics also help healthcare managers to focus their coaching on the work units and departments with low participation or number of ideas.
• Results metrics, which measure the campaign’s effect on the EIC’s improvement challenge (e.g., cost reduction, patient-safety incident reduction, patient-satisfaction score improvement). The final effect for some EICs may take longer than others to accurately determine.


Carefully planned, implemented, and supported, EICs offer a significant opportunity for the entire organization to take part in meeting financial challenges while improving patient outcome and satisfaction. EIC’s by design provide ample opportunities for employees to be recognized by their peers and managers. The short duration of EICs can help build momentum for longer-term idea management programs.


About The Author

James Brewton’s picture

James Brewton

James Brewton, Founder of Small Ideas, LLC has spent his career in implementing employee-driven performance improvement initiatives. Brewton is a published author, Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Kaizen Facilitator and Lean Master with over thirty years’ experience in planning and leading the implementation of employee-driven continuous improvement programs across a broad range of service sectors and with a deep passion for healthcare.