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Electronic Suggestion Box – Sounds Like a Good Idea … But

Posted by Kade Jansson

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Feb 15, 2017 8:01:00 AM

light-bulb-current-light-glow-40889.jpegWe’re in the continuous improvement business, so it isn’t surprising that we sometimes talk to HR managers and other leaders who have been sold on the idea that an electronic suggestion box is the way to gather employee ideas for improvement. Physical suggestion boxes have been around probably as long as there have been businesses, so why not modernize the approach by making it digital?

We applaud any attempt to get front-line employees involved in improvement, but our clients have told us that electronic suggestion boxes are not an effective way to capitalize on the collective wisdom of the team. Why? Largely because they don’t go far enough in turning thought into action.

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Here’s where they break down.


There’s no built-in structure for implementing the suggestion

We’d argue that a “box” is a terrible place to put a great idea. Boxes are for storing things and sorting things, not for achieving things.  In order to innovate, you need a way to turn suggestions into action. As an alternative to an electronic suggestion box, consider a continuous improvement platform that focuses on both collection and implementation of opportunities for improvement.

Employees don’t get visibility into what happens to the suggestion

Imagine how it would feel to come up with an idea that would cut costs or improve quality. You proudly enter it into the electronic suggestion system, then … crickets. Was your idea even reviewed? Was it rejected for some reason? Is someone working to make it happen? If you aren’t given any feedback, how likely would you be to submit your next terrific idea?

Very few suggestions make it out of the box

Sadly, only 2-3% of suggestions from a typical digital suggestion box system are implemented. This is terrible for the companies who are missing the opportunity to improve based on these ideas and for the employees who quickly learn that participation isn’t worth their effort. One of the main reasons for this problem is top-down thinking when it comes to improvement. If every improvement requires executive support and a committee, few will be addressed. Companies that get the most from employee suggestions have mechanisms in place that empower employees and supervisors to make incremental improvements at the front line level.

People aren’t recognized for their contributions

If you recognize and reward people for the behavior you want, they give it to you more often. This is absolutely true of improvement work. When employees make useful suggestions for improvement it is important to publicly recognize their contributions. That’s why software with built-in improvement broadcasting is far more effective than an electronic suggestion box. As a bonus, when others see their peers recognized for submitting helpful suggestions, they are more likely to contribute as well.

Culture is key

Peter Drucker said it best, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can implement all of the software you want, bring in the consultants, post signs around the office and roll out a new mission statement, but all of it will be for naught if the cause of continuous improvement isn’t apparent in the culture. Improvement work may start on the front lines, but culture begins at the top. If employees sense that leaders are only giving lip-service to improvement work, the quest for innovation will not spread. Digital suggestions boxes don’t do much to support a culture of improvement. Instead look for solutions that engage employees and leaders, every day, in collecting ideas, implementing improvements, and calculating the results.

There’s no good way to know if it is working

Lots of companies are interested in gathering employee feedback and suggestions. Some earnestly try to find ways to implement those ideas. But the ones who are most successful at sustaining a culture of improvement are those that calculate the impact of improvement work. Why? Because knowing exactly how employee suggestions are propelling the organization to meet its goals helps employees and executives alike stay engaged and committed. It is one thing to say that we implemented 20 employee ideas this quarter. It’s quite another to say we reduced costs by $50,000, improved customer satisfaction by 10%, or reduced defects by 20%. Those are the numbers that justify additional investment in improvement activities and help people understand how small changes can make a big difference.

Fortunately, there are solutions that address all of these shortcomings of an electronic suggestion box. They include notifications and alerts that make sure each suggestion is evaluated. Employees can access the system to see the status of their ideas and cross-functional teams can be assembled to get things done. When positive results are achieved, the impact is calculated and shared with the entire organization. This kind of solution is no support for a culture of improvement, but it supports one and makes improvement part of everyday life.  

If you are considering an electronic suggestion box you are definitely on to something. Why not take your good instinct to the next level?

Topics: Suggestion Systems

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