Ideas that open new possibilities for the future
Continental AG, a German automotive manufacturing group, is one of the most well known examples in the field of employee collaboration to generate improvement actions and help the business of a company.
Their example is a success case as, only on 2013, the group saved 160 million euros thanks to the 440.000 ideas implemented (from 500.000 ideas received by the Continental Idea Management initiative, which represents that almost 9 ideas out 10 were implemented).
From any point of view, and not only from the social collaboration point of view, these impacting data gain more strength if the number of employees the company is emphasized: 178.000 employees distributed in 291 work centers and 49 countries.
In total, the 2013 rate has increased to 2.41 ideas implemented per employee, but there are work centers where the participation was near to the 100% of employees, which must be taken into account that. In some cases, this participation was kept throughout the years. In these locations, this number even reached to 65 ideas per employee.
At this point, the question we should ask ourselves is what makes these professionals decide to commit to the company at these levels? We are not talking about a contest of typical ideas, where employee send their contributions via e-mail or upload them in a website, and then to be pushed into the background.
In this case, we are talking about a global view, a firm commitment from Continental, since 1930 (seventy-five years before social networks and collaborative platforms existence), to incorporate collaboration as key element to their strategy.
|Year||Implemented Ideas||Employees||Saving (in million euros)|
The table was prepared with data from annual reports and press releases on Continental.
Even though spectacular, these numbers are not enough to understand the project importance and extent. Could we have reached this level, aside from launching a massive campaign to receive ideas? Are these results replicable for any campaign? Can any campaign save almost 700 million euros in 6 years due to 2 million implemented ideas provided by employees? The answer is not simple: it depends on a large extent of several factors we will cover them further on, though most of them originate in the company culture.
The company philosophy perfectly summarizes the holder of this document which top management make available to all employees, in order to explain the guidelines of the Continental Idea Management initiative: “Ideas that open new possibilities for the future”. The Executive Committee chair and the Human Resources manager, a member of this Committee, sign this declaration of intents. This declaration goes beyond and focuses this message in three main aspects:
- For our company: Continental acknowledges the System of Idea Management as a key factor to success for the achievement of corporate objectives.
- For our employees: the company is aware of the intrinsic value of knowledge, treasured by its employees and encouraging them to participate.
- For our Management: encourage leaders to detect potential within their teams and answering to all their ideas. Each implemented idea makes the company better.
Incorporate the spirit of cooperation to their strategy. What is the key to success?
- First of all, the phenomenon of the collaborative culture. Continental wants to be a top company in innovative culture, allowing them position themselves above their competitors. This is their vision on this regard:
- Give their employees the chance to use all their experience, knowledge and creativity. The employees are the best indicators to detect where improvement and optimization measures to be implemented.
- It is a combination of open communication, collaboration and technology in order to be the best and the fastest.
- Recognitionand reward for those who suggested new ideas.
- Employees’ contributions are recognized: motivated professionals.The model is based on the recognition and rewarding of the employees that share the best ideas. The initiative strengthens the professional’s motivation and development. In addition, it helps the employees to identify themselves with the company.
- A reliable system for idea management. The whole system is supported by a technological tool in which the ideas sent by the employees are stored, the implemented and not implemented ideas. In this way, knowledge is accessible to all managers to value initiatives, who can also act faster and see if any similar idea is already in progress.
- Support from management and departments. The top executives of the company endorse and encourage the initiative, from the company chairman to executives from different departments such as Human Resources, Finances, Innovation, IT, Logistics, Production, Legal, Patents, etc. Innovation committees in charge of evaluating ideas that are more complex, meet monthly.
- Competition and the number of ideas are important factors, but even more important is the search for qualityand the use of ideas by the group, regardless the origin of the suggestion. The office with more points is the winner. This value is obtained by a formula containing the number of participants, the number of implemented ideas and the estimation of net savings for this idea as values.
- The focus of these ideas is not on cost saving. The employee’s ideas help to improve the processes and product quality. At the same time, they help to improve aspects such as environmental protection or safety in the workplace.
Christian Ritter submitted an idea for delivering shock absorbers vertically instead of a horizontal position (the employees had to duck in order to reach the lower rows of shock absorbers in the pallets). This change saves time and avoids back injuries. Additionally, this method allows the fitting of more shock absorbers per pallet.
The analysis of these factors generates several conclusions. However, if we had to summarize, aside from focusing on the economic indicators or the results obtained, the great success of this initiative is found on knowing how to join the skills of the people part of the company.
On one hand, Continental Idea Management would not be possible without the valuable contribution of professionals that send their ideas year after year. Nevertheless, on the other hand, it also would not be possible without the support and endorsement from the company main executives that have been seeing, for decades, how the value of ideas are beneficial for all: a great future for the company.
Images obtained from Continental Facebook page.