9 easy tweeks to get results out of your suggestion box

Don’t squander opportunities offered to you by your staff. Staff suggestions can deliver real rewards to your business but so often we squander the opportunities offered to us.

Not convinced, here is one example that might change your mind on the value of listening to your staff.

One company that listened was Swan Vesta (a matchbox manufacturer) who saved thousands of pounds by following the suggestion of one of their factory workers.

The suggestion – to put sandpaper on only one side of each matchbox. A simple but effective suggestion which reaped rewards from harnessing the ideas of one of their staff members.

We’ve all probably had a light-bulb moment at work – when we’ve thought if only we could do XYZ to improve X, but how often have we seen this idea recognised, followed through and acted on?

Sure not all of them are practical, or the best solution, but wouldn’t it be good if we could create a culture where ideas are generated, explored, progressed or discarded with?

This good intention is what gives rise to the refrain “why don’t we start a suggestion box” came from.

We might have even go ahead and created a suggestion box which started off with great fanfare and enthusiasm but somehow it has just failed to reap the rewards we were hoping for.

YES – The reality is somewhat different to what we hoped for, as anyone who has had to manage a suggestion box will tell you.

Suggestions boxes are often a resounding failure.So what if you were to take a new approach could you get better results?

Reasons why suggestions boxes fail

The reasons that suggestions boxes fail can generally be summed up as, they

  • have a poorly defined focus – both from the organisation and the individual’s perspective,
  • assume that generating ideas is innate and don’t invest in supporting contributions,
  • often attract the whingers and complainers rather than the idea’s people,
  • are rarely systematically reviewed and the outcomes communicated,
  • become ‘black holes’ that result in staff becoming disillusioned, and
  • their very anonymity and individual nature (I’m putting in a suggestion) works against building a culture of shared ownership of ideas, reward and encouraging ideas.

It doesn’t really matter if they exist in the real or digital world they generally all fall victim to one or more of these problems.

Maybe it is time to rethink the approach to how you capture, review and make use of the ideas and input of staff.

Good intentions don’t = outcomes

We all start out with good intentions – we want to achieve the nirvana of suggestion boxes, great ideas that with tangible or intangible benefits, such as saving us time, money or suggesting new or safer ways of doing things.

We know that front line staff suggestions have the potential to reap up to 80% of all performance improvements as shared with us in the book The Idea Generation Organisation.

This potential has been demonstrated time an again in a number of organisations and yet ours has failed, probably for some or all of the reasons outlined above.

Here’s some suggestions for you

Maybe it is time to rethink our approach to capturing, reviewing and making use of the input of staff.

I’ve pulled together some pointers for reinvigorating your suggestion box (or perhaps your re branded [insert your new name here]).

  1. keep your system simple and focused – i.e. this month we want suggestions on XYZ – or “initially we want suggestions to come from anywhere then we will focus on the top 5 areas highlighted for action”.
  2. assign a sponsor, chief promoter or champion to monitor the system and intervene if necessary; and make sure they are resourced in this role.
  3. promote a  peer review of the ideas with some guidance to staff to assist them in this process – be clear about what the criteria for review are to guide front line staff. Make a decision if you want these reviews to be public or private – if you make the process public you might skew inputs and discourage ideas.
  4. consider if you need some specific training in the ‘how to’ of generating ideas.
  5. Embed the escalation of peer endorsed ideas to management to consider and enable action.
  6. ensure you provide feedback quickly on all ideas – be specific was it feasible, was it a priority could it be implemented.
  7. consider a recognition or reward system for the best ideas – this is not essential for success and might be counterproductive.
  8. build in some metrics to monitor progress to evaluate how your approach is maturing.
  9. share and celebrate the results of action taken in ways such as – time or money saved, new resources purchased or changes to practice implemented.

One example to consider

One alternative approach which shares many of these features was shared in a post by Alexander Kjerulf, of the Chief Happiness Officer Blog and can be summed up in their flow chart.


Want to leave the real world?

If you want to move away from the real world ‘suggestion box’ here are a couple of online idea sharing tools/platforms which you might want to explore.

  • Free Suggestion Box – is free in beta but in the future there will be both free and affordable paid plans.
  • Suggestion Ox – if you’re a small team they have a free option for you.
  • SuggestionBox – while marketed to consumer engagement can be re-purposed for staff feedback.
  • Ideascale – if you’re a small team they have a free option for you.
  • Boxwire – a paid service

Where to from here

I would love to hear you if you’ve had some success from your approach or if you have seen some ideas that improve on the ubiquitous ‘suggestion box’. If you’re happy to it would be great to share them with others.

You might also like to read my article on Handling negative reviews for your non profit – let’s get it right for other hints and tips on how to manage feedback positively.

About the author – Helen Attrill, MBA

Hi, Just a bit about myself to help you understand what my driving mission is. I am committed to helping aged care and not for profit organisations ‘accept the challenge of industry change’™.

I have over 26 years as an industry and organisation leader in the aged care and not for profit sector and have led the successful implementation of significant sector, profession and organisational change. Armed with this background I can guide and assist you with your change management challenge.

To find out more about my background visit the Meet Helen page.

If you are still struggling with change and need some support or assistance please feel free to contact me by emailing me at helen@helenattrill.com