If you are delighted with the results you are getting from your suggestion box approach to finding employee ideas for improvement, congratulations! You are a unicorn.
If you are like most organizations, however, you’ve had only lackluster results and few real improvements as a result of your suggestion box. It’s not your fault. It’s the approach that’s flawed, not you or your employees.
It only does one thing and it’s not very good at that.
A suggestion box is a way to gather employee ideas for improvement. If you have a physical suggestion box hanging on the wall somewhere, think about the barriers to submitting an idea. The employee must be in the office, with a pen, and a piece of paper, and have the time and inclination to mosey over and drop in their thoughts. An electronic suggestion box certainly makes it easier but falls victim to the other flaws noted below. Collecting employee ideas for improvement is an important thing to do, but it is only the first step.
It does nothing to answer, “What’s in it for me?”
What do people want in exchange for their suggestions for improvement? Money? Awards? A plaque? Not really. What they want is … wait for it … improvement. People suggest that things change because they want them to change. They want to work more efficiently. They want customers to be happier. They want the company to be more profitable. And what’s more, most of the time, they know how to make that happen. If they think that the company will act on their ideas, they will share them. If they suspect that the opposite is true, why bother?
What could be more passive than a box?
The whole metaphor of a suggestion box, in real life or online, is flawed. Boxes are for storage. No company ever got better by storing a bunch of ideas. Improvement requires action. That’s why continuous improvement software that ensures that each opportunity for improvement is assessed and that those with merit are acted upon results in positive change, whereas suggestion boxes largely don’t. Solutions that work include notifications and alerts to make sure forward progress happens.
What’s with the cloak and dagger stuff?
I’ve always wondered why most suggestion boxes have a lock. As our Mark Graban often asks, are managers afraid that someone will come and steal the suggestions? Perhaps there’s a black market. Improvement isn’t some super-secret shameful thing that should be done anonymously after dark. In a culture committed to getting better as a way of life, opportunities for improvement are shared openly. People are proud when an idea that they’ve submitted becomes reality and produces a measurable impact. All of the tasks associated with improvement work are documented so that others can build on what works and avoid past mistakes.
The instincts behind suggestion boxes are good. It is smart to recognize that every employee can think of ways to make the company a better place to work and more likely to reach its strategic goals. But organizations that are serious about turning these ideas into results eventually abandon the box in favor of a solution that does a whole lot more to empower action.