These days just about everything is online and connected. I got a new emersion circulator to make sous vied meals; it’s controlled by an app on my phone. That’s awesome. It’s no wonder that HR leaders in almost every industry are looking for ways to move previously analog tasks into the digital age. The employee suggestion box is no exception. There are a bunch of ways to put it online from software built for that purpose to anonymous surveys and submission forms. But does it help? Does moving the suggestion box to the cloud result in better ideas? Do employees feel more heard?
For the leaders we’ve spoken with, the answer is no. Removing the steps of walking to a box, jotting down the suggestion, and dropping it in often does result in more suggestions initially. Requiring specific fields to be completed can increase the quality of the recommendations in the beginning, but the improvements are generally short-lived. People soon begin to ignore the link or icon, just like they ignored the physical box.
It’s usually a downer. But why?
There are a few common reasons why employees don’t engage with suggestion boxes online or off.
They don’t know what types of suggestions to make. Just asking for suggestions without clearly aligned objectives and goals doesn’t give folks the information they need to be thoughtful about what could be improved at the operational level. That’s why you get a bunch of ideas for what to serve in the cafeteria or how to prioritize parking spaces instead of actionable ideas for making process flow better.
They don’t believe their suggestions will be considered. This is a biggie and why I hate the box metaphor. Boxes are for storing things, not doing things. Most of us have had the experience of making a great suggestion only to have it ignored. It hurts a bit, and eventually, we all stop doing it.
There’s no incentive to do it. If proposing ideas for improvement is not part of an employee’s performance expectations and if they aren’t recognized when they do it anyway, why would anyone bother? Most organizations are running thin, and people have a lot on their plate as it is without taking on the additional task of explaining how something could be done more efficiently. A suggestion box, digital or not, has neither carrot nor stick.
Having said all of that, we wholeheartedly believe that there are people in your organization who have innovative ideas for reducing waste, increasing efficiency, improving quality, and delighting customers in their heads right now. Fortunately, there’s a better way than moving your suggestion box online to get them out.
Instead of a suggestion box, consider improvement management software that forms something of a suggestion system. Employees put their ideas into an engine for engagement and action, and they see tangible results. That new paradigm changes the game.
Here’s how it works.
Align: Leaders meet to determine the vision, strategy, and annual goals for the organization. Those objectives are cascaded down until every individual knows how their work is related to the overall success of the organization. Everyone from the executive suite to the front-line is tasked and empowered with finding incremental ways to move the organization toward its breakthrough objectives.
Capture: An improvement platform is put in place that allows employees to offer their suggestions for improvement that are aligned with the goals. Ideas are categorized by type, department, and any other criteria that are relevant for your organization.
Evaluate: Every idea is reviewed by a supervisor to determine if it should be implemented and how it should be prioritized. Employees receive feedback, even if the idea won’t be selected for immediate action. A process called Catchball can be used to refine the improvement opportunity.
Act: The improvement management software should support completing the project by allowing users to assign tasks, upload relevant documents, manage dates, and collaborate with others. Ideally, it will include notifications and alerts to keep everyone up to speed on the process of the project.
Monitor: Hopefully, your team will have many projects based on employee ideas going at any time. A great suggestion system will make it easy for leaders to visualize the status of this crucial work and get an early warning if they need to take action to remove a roadblock or allocate additional resources.
Measure: Once an idea has been implemented, the online solution should provide reporting that shows the results of improvement over time. Improvement can be measured in cost savings, defect reductions, customer satisfaction, increased revenue, or any other statistic that is an important indicator of the health of your business.
Broadcast Success: We mentioned earlier that recognizing employees for their contributions leads to increased engagement and more awesome suggestions. After each win, make sure everyone knows about it.
We understand that this type of solution isn’t as easy as an online version of the suggestion box, but the most transformative changes are rarely easy. If you want to get the most out of the collective potential of your organization, you’ll need a lot more than a box.