The notion that employees are a valuable resource for ideas on how to improve companies is not new. Managers have been asking for input for probably about as long as there have been companies. But the concept of an organized, systematic, and supported approach to identifying and acting on employee ideas for engagement is a more recent development. Let's take a look at how employee engagement in continuous improvement has evolved over the years.
The Physical Suggestion Box
Since the first recorded implementation of the suggestion box in the British Navy in 1770, they have sprung up in businesses of all sorts. Why? It’s a simple way for employees to offer input, sometimes anonymously. There’s no doubt that some great ideas have been uncovered this way. However, it's more common for the box to be "the place where good ideas go to die." It's easy for managers to neglect to follow up, and only 2-3% of improvement ideas are implemented in a typical suggestion box system. People disengage when they feel ignored or undervalued. If you do a Google image search for “suggestion box” you don’t have to scroll very far to start seeing the jokes about the suggestion box being connected to a waste basket or a paper shredder. Once something becomes a meme, it’s probably time to move on.
The Electronic Suggestion Box
During the 1990’s people got very good at taking something that used to be done on paper and digitizing it. In some cases, this brought a ton of value; for example, email has a number of capabilities that paper mail doesn’t, for example. In light of this, it’s no surprise that suggestion box software hit the market. Once cloud based applications became ubiquitous, many organizations opted for an online suggestion box solution. The electronic version of the suggestion box enabled people from across the organization to submit ideas without actually going to a physical box, and managers didn't have to keep track of all of the paper ideas. It didn't really fix any of the problems of a traditional suggestion box system, though, and implementation rates stayed painfully low.
Employee Engagement Software
Employee engagement software was the saving grace for organizations that really needed employees to get deeply invested in continuous improvement. Today, companies in every industry are turning to employee engagement software that supports improvement efforts from the collection of the idea all the way through to measuring the results of change. While electronic suggestion boxes serve as an inbox for improvement ideas, employee engagement software improves the improvement process by:
- Engaging more people, thus capturing more opportunities for improvement
- Establishing a workflow using active notifications to push improvement ideas from identification to implementation more effectively
- Measuring the impact of improvement
- Sharing knowledge, impact, and experience
Employee engagement in continuous improvement is essential for today’s companies to remain competitive. Modern workers want to be involved and invested in the success of the organization. Employee engagement software supports that in a way that a suggestion box (digital or otherwise) never could.