The Fresh Eyes Journal – let new employees identify innovation opportunities

New employees or team members can help identify new innovation opportunities. But don’t expect them to do this automatically. Introduce a fresh eyes journal to encourage newcomers to share what has gone unnoticed for too long.

The arrival of a new employee or team member is a reason for celebration. Sure, the newbie has lots to learn and will need some guidance at the start, but it is exactly the unfamiliarity with ‘business as usual’ that gives your new colleague a superpower: the skill to identify innovation opportunities that are invisible to the rest of the organisation.

The Fresh Eyes Journal

At HatRabbits, we give new team members the assignment to keep a ‘fresh eyes journal’. We ask them to write down everything that stands out to them. Everything that makes them frown deserves to be written down in the journal.

We didn’t invent the fresh eyes journal as a way to identify innovation opportunities. The founders of Emerald Therapeutics, a Californian biotechnology company, came up with the idea to keep an innovative culture. They introduced four steps that each new employee is supposed to follow whenever he or she encounters something that seems odd:

  1. If you see something that seems weird to you, write it down
  2. Talk to other people: why do we do things this way? What’s our reasoning for doing this?
  3. What issues remain, even when you take into account what colleagues told you about the reasoning behind the practice?
  4. What solution(s) do you propose? How can we fix this?

By having someone new write down as many ideas as possible on improvements, solutions and opportunities, the organisation (or team) gets to benefit from the ‘fresh eyes’ other team members no longer have.

Why a Fresh Eyes Journal?

The longer you work in an organisation or team, the more commonplace everything becomes. Even things that might not be very logical (anymore) at all. Newcomers, however, are not yet stuck in fixed patterns. The fact that everything is new to them, enables them to point out the obvious that is no longer visible to experienced employees. Whatever they find odd, they can flag. Some rules and customs might be in place for good reason, but others might have become obsolete without anyone noticing. New and better methods might be available. A fresh eyes journal likely uncovers innovation opportunities that were in plain sight all along.

Make sure you ask new employees to keep a fresh eyes journal right from the start. Ask them on day one. It won’t take long before they are used to ‘the way we do things here’ and once they’ve gotten used to their new environment, their eyes aren’t so fresh anymore. In most cases, it probably won’t take more than a month to become part of the system. Make sure you make the most of the fresh eyes while they last.

Preconditions for the journal to function

A fresh eyes journal is a great tool to uncover innovation opportunities, but for it to function it is necessary that the new colleague feels safe to point out uncomfortable truths. It’s not fun to hear how what you’re used to do can be done way more efficient. Let alone that your actions are useless or counter-productive…

Is the ordering process tedious for customers? Does the competition have a feature that blows yours out of the water? Is there redundant paperwork that slows down your process…? You’ll want to know.

It can be scary to tell people with a lot more experience they’re doing it wrong. Therefore, it’s paramount to show that the organisation or team appreciates the new feedback. Explicitly make clear that the newcomer shouldn’t hold back. Not just minor flaws should be mentioned. In fact, it’s ESPECIALLY the painful observations that should be shared. Explain that these embarrassing findings help the organisation to improve and to find new innovation opportunities.

However, reassuring words are not enough. If suggestions and observations are shut down or ignored, you can be sure no more valuable insights will be shared.

Don’t punish what you consider ignorant remarks. As the new colleague doesn’t know how things work around here, he or she might question valuable routines or suggest things that are clearly impossible. Don’t point out how foolish these remarks are. Instead, thank the employee for sharing his or her thoughts and patiently explain why, in this case, the idea won’t be implemented. After you’ve double-checked if the remark is indeed as unfounded as you think, of course!

Furthermore, show that you act on the ideas that have been put forward. Give feedback on every idea and show that steps are taken to implement or test good ideas. Nothing is more discouraging than complete silence after having shared an idea. If an employee gets the impression that nothing happens with whatever he or she brought forward, motivation to share anything will melt away like snow in the sun.

Make it easy to signal innovation opportunities

Make sure it’s easy for a new employee to signal the innovation opportunities you are looking for. After all, it’s yet one more thing to do. And getting used to a new environment is hard enough as it is! Make clear how important the fresh eyes journal is. If you don’t clarify this, your new colleague won’t bother spending time on this secondary task.

Some guidelines

To help new employees to get started with the Fresh Eyes Journal, we share some simple questions and advice on day one:

General

  • What stands out to you? (both positive and negative – what are things we should know?)
  • What would you do differently? (why? And how would you do this differently?)

Personal

  • What should we stop doing? (what doesn’t work for you?)
  • What should we continue doing? (what works well in your opinion?)
  • What should we start doing? (what is lacking in your opinion?)

Some advice on phrasing your idea:

  1. Be specific and clear.
  2. Share your line of thought. What makes you think this?
  3. Describe your solution. What needs to be done and what is the first step?

Manage expectations

Apart from an explanation of the Fresh Eyes Journal and some guidelines, we also spend some time on expectation management. Making clear that not every idea will be implemented prevents disappointment. Explain that, while the organisation is very keen to hear new ideas and innovation opportunities, it’s not a given that those ideas will be implemented in the short run (or at all). Choices need to be made. And any newcomer will understand this if you take the time to explain it.

Tell the newcomer to not be deterred if an idea isn’t implemented straight away. “Keep firing ideas at us. We will listen to each and every one of them and we will act on most.” As long as you carefully explain why you don’t implement an idea (and make sure you act on most), this won’t discourage new employees from sharing their thoughts.

 

 

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