Getting every employee in your organization to think for you as well as work for you isn't easy. Garden State Brickface, Roselle, N.J., however, has found a way to do it. The company calls its continuous improvement program “I-Power.”

“The ‘I' stands for all of the good words that begin with the letter ‘I',” explains company president and CEO David Moore. “Like improvement, initiative, innovation, and ‘I' as in, ‘I'm going to do something.'”

Moore picked up the idea from a magazine 10 years ago, adapted it to his company's purposes, and has been holding weekly “I” meetings ever since. All inside staff and salespeople attend the meetings. Field personnel submit ideas as well, so everyone's involved. “Every week we ask everybody to come up with two ideas,” Moore says. In a typical year, he gets between 1,000 and 2,000 ideas from some 100 employees.

PAID TO THINK Unlike typical suggestion programs, Moore's puts his money where the ideas are. “Two dollars if it's a good idea, 10 dollars if it's a really great idea,” he says. He decides. The program has produced scores of both good and great ideas. Here are a few:

  • Buying water coolers for production crews at Wal-Mart rather than through the usual catalog, saving $162. That person got $10, as does any money-saving idea, even if the saving is only $8, Moore says.
  • Including MapQuest directions with the paperwork given to installation crews.
  • Implementing a GPS system to track trucks (now in testing).
  • Eliminating unnecessary copies of every job order.
  • And, from an installer: making sure his shirt was tucked in so he wouldn't potentially offend customers.
  • GETTING STARTED “It's about a thousand singles, not home runs,” Moore says. “It's about engaging people to understand that they can make a difference.”

    To get started with a program of your own, Moore recommends presenting employees with a specific problem to think about. Get their attention early on by surprising them with $5 for their ideas. For long-term success, “it takes an unrelenting focus on staying with it,” he says. For Garden State Brickface, that attention's been well worth the effort.