Have you ever noticed how often a "suggestion box" ends up as the gag in a comic strip? I've seen them set up above trap doors, attached to shredders, and even one that was rigged with the same exploding dye packs you hear about in bank robberies. There must be some pretty strong feelings for the same joke to keep playing out over and over for so many years. The suggestion box somehow came to symbolize a difficult relationship between managers and employees everywhere. That tells us something about how rarely most employees feel heard.
I doubt that anyone actually has set up bunkers and barbed wire around their "suggestion box," but there are a lot of little things that can be just as discouraging. Here are some common and costly mistakes.
One of the common gags in comics is that the box is just there for show. These are the ones with no opening and others that empty directly into the recycling bin. It's funny in a cartoon, not so funny in your business. Don’t just nail a shoebox to the wall, you have to actually listen.
Once the suggestion box goes up, there a timer that starts in your employees' heads and one of two things is bound to happen; a new suggestion will be acknowledged and implemented, or the employees will realize that the box is actually a black hole. The level of employee engagement you can expect in the future depends on which it is.
The Bear Trap
One of my favorite examples was a cartoon with a suggestion box in the middle of a giant spring loaded bear trap, as though it were the bait. What a great image of how backwards it can all get with bad communication. It’s another example of how powerful a force this line of communication can be.
The point is a simple one. Don’t attach negative stimuli to the experience of making a suggestion. Make it something your team will want to do again.
Suggestion or Complaint?
One comic I saw had a full complaint box next to a dusty suggestion box containing only one suggestion. The suggestion was, “Get a bigger complaint box.” Don’t forget to promote and position your desire for employee ideas as an opportunity for improvement, not a tool for your office to reenact Game of Thrones. This is positive, not political. Some things to help keep it positive include:
- Make it easy to do
- Never make fun of an idea, anonymous or not
- Always give credit where credit is due
Remember to let your team members think of making a suggestion as an opportunity to shine, not as a chance to get burned.
The suggestion box has come to mean a lot. I'm sure there are no exploding dye packs or booby traps built into your break room, but avoid these mistakes to make sure you don’t end up looking like a cartoon.