The Overlooked Value of the “Suggestion Box” and Why You Need One
One day in my former job the administrator had to change her debit card at the bank and she felt it took too long to solve her issue. She was not happy because it seems like a waste of time to spend hours doing something that should be routine. In the conversation she commented a couple of way the process could be improved. I suggested her to write at the website or use the suggestion box at the bank office.
Her response? She laughed at me for the next couple of days.
Her disbelief was well sustained; on her first job she remembered the suggestion box in the hallway. One day she got an idea for the accounting department. She wrote her thoughts and tried to put it in the box, but the envelope didn´t go through for some reason. Something was in the way blocking it. A coworker saw her struggling and helped her. When they opened the door they discovered a bunch of gum inside!
It was something very disrespectful, certainly, but it was also a way to say: “this is a joke”. And it was also a proof of the lack of communication between management and the staff. Maybe the worst damage is to make someone think that her/his opinion is not important or valued.
Fortunately, there are other kind of experiences like the automotive industry were this system is followed systematically and even encouraged to use. Another good friend working in a huge paper corporation is required to add to the box at least 3 ideas by month to improve any area or working procedure even outside his own department. The company also promotes the use with incentives for those ideas implemented or just for the consistency to make an effort to make a better working place.
The advantages for the management are many:
- Save money and time by taking advantage from the day-to-day to an internal point of view
- Creates a bond staff/organization
- Provides a window for the clients to make suggestions or special conditions of work, delivery, manufacturing, etc
- The use of tools on the cloud has made very easy its implementation and following
- It´s a strong way to create an image in the social media
- And most importantly: It creates ownership and increases engagement
The suggestion box must be supported not only by good intentions, but by a protocol or procedure establishing the steps for its use. The responsibilities to make this tool a real leverage point is placed on the leader to improve relationships with clients, employees and suppliers. It should NOT be used as a kind of “black hole” absorbing complaints.
We also have to carefully consider the speed of discussing and implementing the suggestions. This will let the staff know that you do care and are keeping a close eye on things, and, more importantly, that you value their opinion. Someone that you employ may just have the “game-changing” idea you have been looking for. Most big companies bring in highly paid business coaches that make the exact same suggestions that could have been had if management opened their eyes to see what is right in front of them. After all, who knows your business better than the ones doing the job each day?
The best way to people take seriously this type of tool is through ownership. If someone has a grand idea, put them in charge of testing and measurement! Even if we can´t use most of the ideas or comments, a response acknowledging the effort is very positive. Remember to extend and apologize when is necessary too, realize that the intention is to listen to the environment and respond in a proper way.
Additionally, this also provides an excellent opportunity to teach clients or suppliers the best way to deal with your company politics (pay days, reception of material, sales visits, etc.).
After all, the best type of employee is the one that is engaged. What better way to foster that type of thing than by listening to them? Keep in mind one simple fact of life that we so often take for granted: The highest form of respect we can pay someone in our lives is to listen to them when they speak.
Do you have already a “Suggestion Box” system in place? If you do, is it just “for show”, or is it a viable growth tool that everyone believes in? What´s your experience in using it? How do you take advantage of it?
Please share it with us.
Javier Dominguez – Design Professional
Gould Design, Inc.