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Harness the Power of an Employee Suggestion Program: Beyond the Suggestion Box

Employee Suggestion Program Musts

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The pitfalls of an ill-conceived employee suggestion program are multiple, legendary and most frequently - avoidable. A carefully constructed employee suggestion program, that is launched with organizational commitment, clarity and ongoing communication can positively impact your bottom line and your employee motivation and enthusiasm. An ill-conceived, hastily launched, undefined employee suggestion program can turn people off and generate ill will, cynicism and misunderstanding.

Does Your Company Need an Employee Suggestion Program?

Before launching an employee suggestion program, consider your corporate culture. Are you currently receiving fresh and thoughtful ideas? Are employee suggestions already percolating to the surface at staff meetings and in casual conversation? If so, maybe more informal methods for cultivating new ideas are warranted rather then a full-blown employee suggestion program.

Perhaps you can schedule departmental brainstorming sessions or generate ideas about particular topics during portions of your weekly staff meeting. You can set a day a month for a luncheon at which every employee is asked to submit at least one idea. You can ask your managers to bring three employee ideas to each manager’s meeting. Creativity serves you well in idea generation.

If not, I’d begin by asking what about your culture is currently stifling ideas? Will these issues continue to exist when you implement an employee suggestion program? If so, your successful employee suggestion program must eliminate or circumvent these road blocks.

I am not traditionally a fan of employee suggestion programs since they are unwieldy, difficult to keep up with, time consuming, can cause more hard feelings than positive outcomes and must be strictly managed.

Elements in a Successful Employee Suggestion Program

I have seen few employee suggestion programs succeed, but the employee suggestion programs that did succeed shared common success elements. You may take a pause at the number of factors I consider significant to the success of an employee suggestion program, but these are factors common to any successful work process that takes employee time and offers the possibility for significant rewards and recognition. If you pursue an employee suggestion program, the following must happen for success.

Appoint a Cross-functional Suggestion Review Team

A cross-functional team must review the suggestions which must be acknowledged within 48 hours. If this team is all managers, or all directors, it can be perceived as out of touch or blocking change. It will, however, have the power to implement the suggestions it receives. If it involves other employees, the process can be time-consuming and perceived to serve self-interests. Senior management agreement and ownership become a second step in the approval process. People on the team must be willing to change and willing to ask “why not” rather than “why”?

Finance, especially, and all other departments must be represented on the suggestion review team. If the managers or directors review suggestions, the review must be part of a regularly scheduled meeting, with suggestions distributed and considered in advance. If the team meets more often than monthly, it becomes more work than people are usually willing to do. Rotate members of this team 4-6 times a year, but not all members at once, if a cross-functional employee team is your selected suggestion review vehicle. The choice of team members for the suggestion review team should reflect how business is generally accomplished in your culture.

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