Making Your Suggestion Scheme Make Sense
By Ron Kaufman
demand greater innovation. Changes are coming faster than ever
before and your competitors are ever more nimble. Customers have
rising expectations. You need new ideas, better processes, more
innovative products and services, and more effective ways to build
strong futures with those customers.
Research and Development, customer focus groups and surveys are
valuable tools for innovation. In the current economic climate
though, it is time to revisit the “Staff Suggestion Scheme” – a
low-cost yet effective technique when done right. Companies can no
longer survive with staff members who expect management to provide
“all the right answers“. Today, companies require a steady flow of
ideas and solutions from those who are closest to the processes and
the customers, those with their “ears to the ground“.
To maintain an
adaptable and responsive organization, you must develop a culture
that actively solicits input and recommendations from every level of
your staff. Most leaders and senior managers are more receptive to
this approach than ever before. But how can you transform the
mindset of staff, who, for years or even generations, were trained
to “keep your mouths shut, lay low, just follow orders“? How can you
encourage your frontline staff to open their minds, explore new
ideas and share their best recommendations?
Suggestion Scheme“ is a time honored process of wooden boxes and
pre-printed forms for staff to write out their ideas and submit them
for management consideration. Many companies have tried this
approach, but few can report real satisfaction with the number,
consistency, or quality of staff contributions. Even fewer can
report widespread enthusiasm for their “Suggestion Schemes“ at all.
Here are six ideas you can implement right away to make your
suggestion scheme more effective:
1. Respond to
all written staff suggestions immediately (within one week) and in
Be candid. If the
answer is no, say so. If the answer is yes, state when staff will
see implementation. If the answer is maybe, explain the issues
involved and give a date for further reply. And stick to it. Nothing
builds trust and credibility faster than making new promises... and
One exception: do
not reply to obscene or abusive suggestions. A strong company
culture has no place for such destructive “input“. Your best
response is not to reply.
2. Respond to
suggestions publicly, for all to see:
Usually, when one
staff member writes, she speaks what is on the mind of many. Reply
openly on a designated bulletin board, in a weekly printed update,
or by electronic mail. Thank the writer(s) for their query or
contribution. Include staff names on suggestions to be implemented.
3. Give an
award, prize or monetary incentive for best suggestions, and give it
Schemes invoke a multi-step process for evaluation and eventual
granting of an award. First, the suggestion boxes are emptied
(sometimes only once a month). Second, a Committee sifts and sorts
for “realistic“ submissions. Third, a Management Committee appraises
the freshness, viability, cost savings or increased revenue from
each suggestion. Fourth, someone in “Senior Management“ decides upon
the amount of reward to be given to the appropriate staff members.
And finally, an actual awarding of the “prize“ is conducted.
The cycle time for
this process is usually four weeks or more. In some cases the senior
management review is only conducted once a quarter. What is your
company's cycle time for awarding prizes to a staff suggestion?
Would you be inspired if you had to wait that long?
Try this approach:
Dedicate $1200 (or your local equivalent) to the project. Give the
money away in $100 increments every month for one year. Each month,
give $50 to the best idea, $20 for the second best idea, and $10
each to the 3rd, 4th and 5th best suggestions. In the first months,
few may believe that you will give out the money in a timely manner,
and possibly only a handful of staff will participate. But no matter
how small or meager the suggestions, give out the money anyway! As
soon as staff realize you are serious, the boxes will be filled with
different categories for your awards:
can help staff focus and generate new ideas. Here are examples of
categories you can use: Ideas that can be implemented immediately,
ideas for getting closer to our customers, suggestions for cost
savings or increasing revenue, new ideas focusing on a chosen theme
for the month, ideas that most dramatically challenge the current
paradigm of your thinking, recommendations for the future direction
of our business.
5. Make a big
event out of awarding your suggestion scheme prizes:
Some companies use lunches, staff teas or monthly meetings to
award prizes. One company makes up large, special “dollar bills“ for
each winning suggestion. In the center is the face of the staff
member who contributed. In the corners is the amount of money his or
her suggestion earned. And surrounding the portrait is a description
of the suggestion itself.
bills“ line the wall of the staff lounge and company cafeteria. The
result is popular group recognition for winners and a “culture
building“ impact that keeps the suggestion scheme going strong. At
the end of the year, give recognition to the volume of suggestions
received, the winners who have been rewarded, and the changes
enacted as a result. Then, pose a challenge to everyone to double
the volume of suggestions in the coming year.
And, if the quality
of ideas warrant, double your cash prizes, too. Four winners a month
last year? Increase it to eight winners per month next year. If the
ideas are good, it’s certainly worth your investment!
6. Most of all,
Act upon what your staff suggests. Nothing demonstrates your
commitment to this approach better than a staff suggestion
recognized, rewarded and immediately put to work.
Are there even
more practical ways to improve your company's suggestion scheme?
Sure there are. Got a suggestion?
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