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Why Suggestion Boxes Fail

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Apr 29, 2014 10:00:00 AM

Is There a Better Way?

2852994074_94891ae6a9Many organizations want to harness the ideas for improvement that naturally exist in their employees.  Unfortunately, many of the current suggestion box systems that have been used for years fail to engage workers and do not create a true culture of improvement.  In addition, the issues seem to be prevalent in both traditional suggestion boxes and the software systems available today.  

After hearing the same feedback time and again from our customers prior to implementing KaiNexus, I’ve summarized three reasons why your suggestion box system may not be driving the improvement you desire, along with some ideas on how you can fix it.

  1. Ideas in exchange for rewards

    If you’re making the mistake of paying your people directly for ideas, you may want to put your pocket book away.  In his book Drive, Daniel Pink explores what truly motivates us and how we can use that knowledge to work smarter and live better.  He demonstrates that while carrots and sticks worked successfully in the twentieth century, that’s precisely the wrong way to motivate people for today’s challenges.  Your people want autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and you should strive to develop these every day.  It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it.  

    Rather than offering people rewards for good ideas, offer them recognition. Praise those who participate in your improvement efforts, and encourage others to get similarly involved.  Provide the necessary transparency for people to understand that you value their contributions, and that their ideas really do make a difference. Let people see their ideas in action, and share with them the knowledge of the impact that they personally have had on the organization.

  2. Every suggestion becomes a committee decision  

    The typical idea routes from the suggestion box to a committee of “peers” who vote on which ideas will be implemented.  While this sounds like a good idea, in reality it causes people to stop submitting ideas, and creates a situation in which only 1-2% of suggestions are implemented.  One of my customers even told me that his employees joke that the committee is where great ideas go to die.  

    The problem is that committees look at an idea as the end of a process, when it’s really just the beginning.  Ideas should not just be voted up or down, especially if they haven’t been discussed with the person from whom the idea originated.  In addition, you can’t fall into the trap of thinking that big ideas are the only ones that can make a difference to your organization. Across the entire KaiNexus platform, upwards of 75% of Opportunities for Improvement are implemented, and some of our customers are seeing 95% success rates. Mark Graban describes this challenge nicely in his video Work to Implement, and while he offers a number of healthcare examples, it applies to every industry and can be a lesson to all of us.

  3. Lack of feedback and collaboration

    Suggestion boxes are an input-only system.  Staff drop their ideas in the hole, and receive no immediate feedback (often, no feedback at all).  This apparent lack of interest in their ideas diminishes their desire to contribute, and the suggestion box fails.  Additionally, assuming someone does open the box and read the ideas, there is often no way to work collaboratively with the person who submitted the idea and the people who can implement it.  This lack of communication is the final nail in the suggestion box coffin.

    To avoid making this mistake, make sure your suggestion system provides accurate, timely feedback, and pay close attention to the ability for employees to collaborate with their managers and colleagues as an idea is implemented.  Being kept in the loop is a strong motivational factor, as employees see the value their supervisors place on their ideas and the impact of their work.

So, how do you begin to solve these problems and leverage the intellect of your people?

First, change your thinking from rewards to recognition.  Find the people who consistently offer the best ideas for improvement, and let them know it.  In addition, develop a system where ideas can be reviewed quickly by one person and can then be assigned to the committee only if it’s needed.  KaiNexus customers assign over half of all opportunities for improvement back to the original author, and those ideas have lead to some of the most impactful improvement work.  Lastly, create an environment where everyone is kept up to date on the progress and impact of every idea.  Software like KaiNexus can help with this, but it’s more about the commitment you make to enable a culture of continuous improvement within your organization.  

Does your company have a successful suggestion system? Tell us about it!


Topics: Suggestion Systems

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