The Suggestion Box: Helpful, or Useless?

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Unless you think you have all the answers, developing a suggestion box or other feedback loop can help to strengthen your business. At one time or another, every business leader has looked for ways to encourage employees to come up with new and better ways to connect with customers and reduce costs, without creating a hard to manage administrative headache. Seeking counsel is prudent and wise, according to King Solomon: "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel" (Proverbs 12:15, NASB). If you want to make the most of your staff's ideas and expertise, consider establishing a formal suggestion system.


First, develop the scope, or type, of ideas desired. If you only want ideas that reduce costs or improve customer satisfaction, establish specific guidelines for suggestions. If you don't set boundaries, many employees will see the suggestion box as an open invitation to propose all sorts of new employee benefits. For example, I have seen suggestions to increase wages by 20 percent across the board, add two additional weeks of vacation for everybody, and provide free lunches to all employees. Carefully determine in advance the scope of ideas you want to solicit, and then stick to those boundaries.

Next, determine the rules. Will you accept anonymous suggestions? Will you have a set form? Can suggestions be made orally, or by e-mail, or must they be written and placed in a suggestion box? If your system starts to generate a lot of ideas, you will be glad that you established a consistent format.

Now, what are you going to do with all the suggestions that come in? Your program will be only as successful as your follow-through. Establish a system to review all suggestions, and determine who will handle the follow-up. At this stage, many submissions can, and should, be discarded. For ideas outside the stated scope of your plan, answer with a polite memo: "Thank you very much for submitting your idea, but we are only considering ideas that affect our manufacturing process." Other ideas may be clearly impractical and not worth spending more time to review further.

Some ideas should be referred to a department head, specialist, or committee. Some organizations post ideas on a bulletin board, print them in a company newsletter, or invite additional input through internal e-mails. The advantage of asking for additional input is that even if an idea is rejected, the submitter knows the concept was taken seriously, and you may receive comments that add real value to the idea. Also, a visible follow-up program encourages additional submissions.

Providing timely feedback to every employee who suggests an idea is a key element of any successful program. If employees never hear back on their suggestions, they soon conclude that the suggestion box is merely a black hole. Ideas that won't work or that are outside the scope of the program can be quickly acknowledged, either orally or in writing. If you refer an idea to others, inform the submitter that the suggestion may have merit and is being reviewed-and make sure to inform the person of any future progress. Jeremiah wrote, "If I give you advice, you will not listen to me" (Jeremiah 38:15). If we fail to listen-or fail to acknowledge that we're listening-the ideas will stop.

Reward recognition is important, and should include both monetary and public recognition. Some companies base their rewards on the savings or company benefit- but even a $25 or $50 reward will carry some weight with your employees, and everybody likes public attention. The key is to determine in advance what your reward system will be, and then stick with those rules.

To encourage new ideas, you may want to solicit suggestions on a particular topic for a season. For example, in May ask for ideas on how to improve the appearance of the facility- in July, ask for ideas to improve quality. Some companies accept employee-benefit suggestions for a limited time each year.

Every year, ideas worth millions of dollars come from employees who have simply been asked. Do your part to encourage suggestions, and then implement those good ideas.

Steve Marr, Your Christian Business Coach