May I Make a Suggestion?
Depending on your age, the words “employee suggestion box” might conjure up a scene from a 50s TV sitcom or draw a complete blank.
A quick online search of the term certainly reveals a lengthy history. On Wikipedia, you’ll find an image from an H.J. Heinz Company factory in the early 1900s.
YouTube offers a fascinating 1945 documentary — really worth watching if you’ve got a few minutes — put out by the U.S. Office of War Information applauding and encouraging ideas that saved time, labor, materials and money toward the WWII war effort.
More contemporary references include several of Scott Adams’ classic Dilbert comic strips, which gleefully skewer life in the working world.
While the old wooden receptacle with a slot on top for anonymously slipping in a piece of paper may be out of fashion, the concept of the suggestion box is definitely making a comeback in the modern workplace, including online versions and apps and even old-school bulletin board-based processes with tactile opportunities for people to vote for great ideas with stickers.
The reason is simple: Research proves employees actually feel more empowered and take more ownership of their work when they’re given the chance to offer up ideas, identify problems, suggest changes and participate in decision-making
That should come as no surprise. First of all, we live in a much more collaborative, feedback-based culture these days. We search out reviews and solicit others’ opinions before we buy a new device, try a trendy restaurant or go see a movie. Why would we not expect our employers to crowdsource ways to improve productivity or become more competitive?
Second, innovation is the name of the game in today’s marketplace. And what better source for breakthrough ideas, fresh approaches and ingenious process improvements than the people who are in the front-lines of the business?
The trick is doing the suggestion box right. Soliciting input can’t be fake or phoned in. Companies have to take employee suggestions seriously, treat comments with respect and actively follow through. And the process for getting a good idea out there and gathering support for it has to be easy, well managed and transparent.
If you’re thinking of starting an employee-suggestion program, check out this Huffington Post article for good advice or turn to HR Bartender for some out-of-the-box suggestions you might not have come up with on your own.
Written by: Diane Landsman
Diane Landsman is familiar to many in the HR community as a former editorial director at Human Capital Media. Now an independent communications strategist, writer and editor she helps enterprises educate, engage, influence and sometimes even entertain their audiences. Her specialty is crafting original content across media channels, from websites that attract searchers and keep them engaged to email campaigns, articles that put organizations on the map, and executive-level whitepapers, speeches, and op/ed pieces.