An ineffective way to engage employees in a innovation or continuous improvement program, if not executed properly, is through the all too common suggestion box. They are usually implemented with the best of intentions by managers who really do want to hear from the people in the organization and the ideas they have. 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.
Only a small number of ideas get implemented
The rule of thumb these days is 2-3% of ideas submitted through a suggestion box actually get implemented. This is demotivating for those folks who have a lot of ideas but never see anything come of the ideas. People submit ideas because they see a way to make something better or identified a problem and want to fix it. If they feel they are not empowered to fix the problem themselves, they will eventually stop looking for ways to improve things.
Lack of follow up
In too many organizations, the suggestion box is where ideas go to die. Some groups may send an email upon receipt of the idea but that is where it may end. Imagine someone taking time out of their busy day to either fill out the form and send the idea through the proper channels to only receive an automated email, if anything at all. Why take the extra effort? People like to know that their ideas are getting noticed, worked on, and hopefully implemented. The idea is perceived to be “lost in the ether” without communicating what is happening to the idea at each milestone of the process. Also consider bringing the person who generated the idea into the discussion. Who better can explain the idea?
No way to know who is participating and who is not
If a suggestion box was set up, the organization is looking ideas for innovation continuous improvement. More than likely most of the ideas are coming from a few people. Overall engagement is low but no one knows for sure. As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done. One way to increase engagement in any idea collection effort is to measure it and track from whom the ideas come. And then, let everyone know that the ideas are being tracked. Make submitting an idea part of everyone’s goals. In a year, everyone will have at least one idea worthy of being sent up the chain of command for review.
No recognition or reward
A good way to increase engagement is to offer recognition for participating. The rewards and recognitions do not have to be big, fancy or expensive. Acknowledgement and gratitude that is communicated to the idea submitter and the organization at large can go a long way. Those who submit an idea that gets implemented deserve additional recognition. Keep in mind, the emphasis is on participation, not on submitting the “winning idea.”
Making it digital won’t solve the problems
Automating a paper process does not make it better or more efficient. It just means that it all happens theoretically faster. If the process is poorly executed or missing components when manual, odds are it will remain so when automated. Address the process, communication, measurement and engagement collectively when creating a digital version of the suggestion box. Otherwise, little will change and your engagement will remain low.
For a suggestion box or any idea collection process to work well, it will require a well managed process. Ensure all know how, why and where to send the idea. Educate them on what happens to the idea at each stage and inform them of each milestone. Bringing the idea generator into the process will promote ownership and future engagement. Communicate how well the program is doing and reinforce management expectations. Recognize those participating with ideas. And ensure the process (yes, a suggestion box is a process) is designed appropriately prior to attempting to automate it.