An established best practice in idea management is providing feedback to participants. It is in fact, crucial to the success of such voluntary systems. Every idea contributor wants to know that his or her idea has been seen and considered. Obviously, they also want to know whether the review team considered it an implementable idea or not. As a result, many system owners believe that sending back individualized feedback on an idea to each author is an imperative. These are often short, system-generated messages thanking people for their idea and politely saying “Thanks, but no thanks.” In some cases the review team or campaign sponsor might even explain why, on an individual basis, a specific idea is not moving forward. Sounds great, right? Well, let’s look into this further.

We can argue what the exact percentage of ideas received in an idea management system are of no value for a particular initiative (90%, 98%, etc.), but we would agree most are of no value (not selected for implementation). We can also agree that X% of ideas aren’t necessarily bad ideas, but might be suffering from bad timing, latent technologies, strategic fit, etc. However for whatever reason, only a few ideas actually get implemented out of the hundreds or thousands received. It’s just the nature of the game in a business world of scarce resources and competing forces.

So, put yourself in the shoes of a normal user contributing ideas and remember that most, if not all, of their ideas will never be implemented. If we send a message to the authors over and over again thanking them for their terrible idea (I’m being dramatic), what do you think the author’s impression of the innovation program will be over time?

I can tell you what I would think: “Why bother? Every time I submit an idea, I get a system-generated email telling me my idea is not good enough.” Or “I can’t get a hold of the person who rejected my idea to help them understand my idea or make sure they considered this or that.” I would eventually stop contributing all together. In essence, the one tool that is supposed to foster engagement and give everyone a voice becomes a tool of condemnation (again I’m being dramatic).

There is a better approach. Instead of sending individual messages, send a group response to all interested parties, praising them for their contributions as a collective. Indicate that each individual response was crucial in helping the review team reach a consensus. Also, mention that all ideas will be moved to the idea warehouse for possible future consideration. Throw in some stats (number of ideas received, comments posted, etc.) for good measure as well. Follow this with a blurb about the ideas/concepts that will be moving forward and why they met the review criteria as a whole. Finish by specifying any project-related information that might be known (next steps are…, plan to implement by Q1, expected to deliver x value, helps address strategic need/goal Y, etc.) at the end of the campaign.

This type of feedback sends a positive message, as opposed to a personal ding. I would know that my idea was not selected, because it was not one of the selected ideas. I would know why my idea was not selected because the selected ideas met the criteria better than mine. I would know my idea was helpful to the review team (they considered it) in determining their selection.  I would know what’s happening next and when. All positive and informative messaging. This approach fosters continued engagement and excitement in the innovation program!

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