Many organizations want to harness the ideas for improvement that naturally exist in their employees. Suggestion boxes are a common, but ineffective, way to engage employees in continuous improvement. They’re usually implemented with the best of intentions by managers who genuinely want to hear their employees’ improvement ideas, but the boxes fail to produce the desired engagement. Most of the reasons suggestion boxes, or any idea collection process, do not work effectively come down to a combination of process, culture and communication related issues. If you’ve tried to implement a suggestion box system in your organization before, it likely failed due to one of these reasons:
1. Lack of Follow-up
If employees feel you’re not going to seriously consider or implement their ideas, they are unlikely to participate actively. Not only will your employees be unhappy with the organization’s apparent lack of follow up, but this will likely decrease overall employee morale. Employees aren’t going to exert discretionary effort sharing improvement ideas, if they don’t know what happens to them.
2. No Recognition and Reward
A great way to increase employee engagement in continuous improvement is to recognize people for their involvement. Employee recognition doesn’t need to be anything big or fancy - a pat on the back or a high five is enough to encourage the participating employee and promote the engagement of others. Suggestion boxes make this difficult, though, since there’s no public acknowledgement for submitted or implemented improvements.
3. Too Hard to Submit Ideas
Imagine this scenario. You’re a busy front line worker, running around all day trying to get your work done. You have an idea for a way that would improve your. Do you a) Stop working, write it on a slip of paper, run across the department, and drop it in a box, or b) Implement it in your own work... if you remember... maybe. If you’re like most people, you don’t go out of your way to submit ideas that likely won’t be followed up on anyway. If no one is submitting ideas into your suggestion box, your system is failing.
4. Hard to Share Improvements
The best way to spread continuous improvement in an organization is to broadcast improvements. Announcing the impact and recognizing the person who made the improvement encourages others to get involved, and sharing new best practices expands the reach of each idea. With a suggestion box, leaders have to take the time to notify all of the right people about new improvements. Busy managers don’t often take the time to reach out to individuals like that, so the improvements don’t spread.
5. Doesn’t Promote Engagement
There are several ways to promote the engagement of employees in continuous improvement, including to recognize and reward those who have participated already, broadcast improvements to share best practices, increasing visibility into improvement work to identify high- and under-performing areas, responding quickly to employee engagement, to name a few. Suggestion boxes certainly don’t help with any of these behaviors - and often, they directly interfere with them. Good luck spreading continuous improvement with a stagnant box on the wall.
Suggestion boxes are a bad way to approach a great concept, and the desire to engage employees in continuous improvement shouldn’t be abandoned because that method failed. Instead, I’d encourage you to look into real employee engagement.
The pitfalls of an ill-conceived employee suggestion program are multiple, legendary and most frequently - avoidable. With organizational commitment, clarity and ongoing communication employee engagement can positively impact your bottom line and your employee motivation and enthusiasm.