Academic research into suggestion systems highlights a huge variance in the impact that the average employee suggestion box has vs. a high performing program for managing employee ideas. In fact, the average employee suggestion box may be doing more harm than good.
Why does this matter?
Front-line workers, or employees who interact directly with customers or processes, are the most valuable source for ideas and innovation. In fact, according to the book 'The Idea-Driven Organization' by Alan Robinson and Dean M. Schroeder, 80% of an organization’s performance improvement potential lies in front-line ideas. For many organizations, however, the method of tapping into their insights hasn’t evolved very much, despite advancements in technology and idea management solutions.
'Many workplaces, for better or worse, still use an employee suggestion box to tap into the insights of front-line employees. Whether it’s an actual box on the wall or a dedicated email address waiting for staff to type their suggestions and hit send, this well-intentioned system intended to drive employee engagement continues to offer little to no value in high-performance workplaces, and actually results in more disengagement.'
While the write-it-down-and-hope-someone-reads it ideas box has been around for centuries, only in the last few decades has the traditional suggestion system been scrutinized.
Here are the problems that plague the average employee suggestion box: few ideas come forward, feedback is poor, and very few ideas see the light of day. To make matters worse, employees who deliver ideas using this method have no idea what’s going on with it. From the employee’s perspective, their idea may not have made it to the right person, or it may never have been read or, even worse, trashed.
Another reason why the traditional method fails is because organizing and strategizing on ideas that appear in a box or through email take up a lot of time, time that cuts into actually implementing the idea -- especially when enterprise organizations are concerned. Furthermore, the individual or department collecting the ideas also has no idea which ideas actually matter to the greatest number of employees unless they manually count how many employees suggested it.
For these reasons and more, suggestion boxes, suggestion systems, employee suggestion programs (whatever you chose to call it) have developed a bad reputation. This is unfortunate because when implemented and managed properly, idea management systems are quite effective in engaging employees and driving innovation at companies of all sizes. Organizations must shift their paradigm from the old suggestion box system to that of a modern idea management program.
The benefits of modern idea management programs
For many organizations, getting employees involved in understanding and improving their job is critical to the success of a company. Unlike the traditional suggestion box, modern idea management platforms can help leadership understand how much innovation is taking place around the company’s business objectives. For example, if a core objective is cost-cutting, an idea management program can help leadership understand how much innovation is taking place around cost cutting. An idea management program or idea software can also help determine where employees are engaging. A lack of ideas or ideas progressing may be a leading indicator that the core objective may be at risk in the long term.
In addition to improving employee engagement, a properly implemented idea management program can improve:
- Productivity by helping to determine how to do more with less, do it faster, or do it with fewer resources while reducing waste;
- The quality of a product or service;
- Safety at an organization, particularly in manufacturing, natural resources or transportation industries where employee safety is a big concern;
- Customer satisfaction in retail and service industry where loyalty and customer satisfaction play a significant role in the success of the organization; and
- Patient care at healthcare organizations
What to consider when implementing a modern idea management program
Once you’ve decided to take the plunge and execute an idea program, there are a number of things you should consider in advance and during the implementation process. Here are some items to keep in mind:
- Use an online suggestion system. Online systems make it easier for employees to share ideas, compared to written alternatives. The ease of use also affects how often an employee shares an idea. The easier it is to use, the higher likelihood that the employee will use it often.
- Allow the ideas to be seen by others. Ideas from groups are known to improve the quality and value of the ideas to business. Ensure that peer learning is built into the idea management program by sharing good ideas and enabling full transparency on the progress of ideas through evaluation and implementation.
- Provide feedback. Lack of feedback is the leading reason why employee idea programs fail. Use the launch of an idea program to build trust that leadership cares about employee ideas that they will take ideas seriously, evaluate them, provide feedback, and that good ideas will move forward and be implemented.
- Get the senior leadership team on board. Having public support from senior management is critical in implementing a sustaining idea management program. Leverage the leadership team to inspire enthusiasm and interest in the program at employee events and through official and casual communications with employees.
- Frame a constructive conversation. By focusing on particular topics, you create a constructive conversation that helps employees know what types of ideas to share and you ensure the ideas employees share align with your company’s top priorities. This leads to insightful ideas that help the organization achieve a greater impact.
- Set up a governance structure for sustainable innovation. Establish a team to manage the ideas coming in. Make sure the team is comprised of decision-makers that are able to effectively evaluate and respond to ideas and move them forward to implementation.
If you already have some type of mechanism for soliciting employee ideas, take a close look at how the idea management program is performing. If you’re not able to get back to employees in a timely fashion, there’s a strong likelihood your efforts could be doing more harm than good. Use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate leadership buy-in and secure the resources you need to perform idea management effectively.
High-performance idea systems that have been successfully implemented by an organization have saved them millions and are one key to unlocking the invaluable information your frontline workers hold, all the while keeping ideas organized and managed.