Employee suggestion boxes have been around for… well, we have no idea, so we’ll go with… ever. On some level, business leaders instinctually know that their employees might have terrific ideas on how to improve the business. After all, they are usually the ones who have the closest contact with products, customers, and workspaces. Collecting their suggestions is an inherently good idea so someone, way back when, stuck a box on the wall, labeled it “Suggestions,” and probably patted himself on the back. Of course, it’s 2017, so now there’s an app for that, and the suggestion box has gone electronic.
But although collecting employee ideas for improvement is an outstanding idea (and, we’d argue, a necessary one) and many organizations use some sort of electronic suggestion box tool, people often tell us that they lead to disappointment for both leaders and employees.
Leaders Don’t Get the Type of Input They Seek
When employees are given a place to deposit their input a common result is that the suggestion box fills up with complaints, but no actionable suggestions for improvement. Leaders are left with a list of problems (real or perceived) but without any insight into potential solutions. On the flip side, employees may make wildly unrealistic recommendations that are not aligned to strategic priorities. Finally, giving employees a mechanism for submitting ideas doesn’t mean they will. Electronic suggestion boxes often become digital ghost towns. Given all of these common problems, it’s no wonder many leaders quickly lose enthusiasm for their suggestion box.
Employees Become Disheartened or Cynical
One employee explained her feelings about the electronic suggestion box like this. “Imagine that you walked up to your boss and offered a great solution for a pressing problem, and she said, ‘Go put it in the box.’ How would you feel about that?” We guess most people wouldn’t feel very valued or encouraged. Boxes are for storage, not action or dialog. When employees make suggestions that they see as valid (whether they actually are or not) and they don’t get a prompt response or see any action, people reasonably tend to give up. In more than one case, we’ve seen the electronic suggestion box become an inside joke within an organization, with employees referring to it as a “black hole” or “roach motel.” That’s not good.
So, if collecting employee ideas is necessary for employee success and electronic suggestion boxes lead to frustration, what can leaders do?
Consider an Improvement Platform Instead
Collecting employee ideas for improvement is one step on the path to better business results, but it is far from the only one. That’s why it makes sense to choose technology that supports the entire lifecycle of positive change.
Quick aside, technology is important, but it is only truly effective within a culture of improvement supported by executives and managers who lead by example and reward employee engagement.
In the most efficient organizations, the improvement life cycle starts well before the potential improvement is identified. How is that possible? Leaders work with employees at all levels to develop a set of strategic objectives for the entire organization. They define the key performance indicators that will measure progress toward those goals. Finally, they cascade these objectives throughout the organization so that each employee understands how he or she can contribute to success. Doing so puts employees in the position to make suggestions for improvement that are relevant to current goals. An improvement platform fosters this alignment and ensures that everyone is working in the same direction.
Once employees start making suggestions based on the goals of the organization, an improvement platform creates a mechanism for action. Managers are prompted to respond to each opportunity for improvement that is collected. If it is determined that action should be taken, teams are assembled and tasks assigned. Notifications and alerts keep the process moving forward and a unified collaboration platform means that everyone knows where progress stands. When suggestions lead to actual improvements, employees become more likely to engage and share their best thinking.
Unlike a “box,” which is designed to keep things hidden, an improvement platform produces transparency and invites dialog. Rather than a place to put ideas, it is the launching point for improvements. Leaders can monitor the health of improvement throughout the organization based on more than the number of suggestions. They can also see how employee ideas are moving the needle regarding the most important Kepis. When improvements are successful, the impact can be measured and ROI established, leading to more investment in improvement and a snowball of better results.
We’re big fans of incremental improvement and an electronic suggestion box is better in some ways than a physical one, so that’s good. But once in a while, there is an opportunity for a breakthrough advance that will really change the game. Going from a suggestion box to an improvement platform is such an occasion.
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