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

Ten More Musts for Your Employee Suggestion Program

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Here are more ideas for designing and administering an effective employee suggestion program - beyond the suggestion box.

Rewards and Recognition in Your Employee Suggestion Program

The reward for implemented suggestions must be clearly defined on the front end. If the employee suggestion is a cost savings idea, in many employee suggestion programs, the employee receives a percentage of the cost savings: often this award can equal five-twenty percent of the proven cost savings.

When thinking about your employee suggestion program, recognize that cost savings are hard to “prove” if you don’t have good numbers defining the process before the employee suggestion is implemented. So, often the first step in a cost saving suggestion implementation is to “measure” the process to make sure you know how the process is currently performing.

Other, less measurable process ideas need a standard reward designated. Often, the recognition is most important to the employee.

Rewards can include merchandise with the company logo, gift certificates, lunch with a manager of the employee's choice, a quarterly award dinner and points toward purchasing more expensive items from catalogs.

Indeed, given the difficulty of measuring the outcome of many employee suggestions, some companies offer these recognition rewards even when the ideas added to the bottom line substantially. In my experience, this is not as motivating as the employee receiving a portion of the savings realized during a defined time period such as a year.

Feedback in Your Employee Suggestion Program

Make the feedback to people with suggestions private, especially if the idea is rejected. Otherwise, people will be loath to stick their necks out by offering out-of-the-ordinary, and possibly your most fruitful, suggestions. On the other hand, when an employee suggestion is implemented and it results in a reward, I would publicly acknowledge the contribution at a staff meeting, with the permission of the employee involved. Additionally, you can post the employee suggestion, the names of the employees on the implementation team and the reward given.

Keeping the employee suggestion program participants abreast of the progress of their suggestions in the program is more important than providing the suggester with quick answers. Employees just want to know what is happening with their ideas. In many organizations, suggestions seem to disappear into a dark hole from which they may not emerge for months - guaranteed failure for the employee suggestion program.

A popular approach to suggestion implementation is to include the suggester on any implementation team. This also keeps the suggestions turned in reasonable. At minimum, if a suggestion is accepted, you need to have a timeline for implementation that the suggester is aware of and understands.

More Pointers for Your Successful Employee Suggestion Program

Employee suggestion programs need to emphasize the quality of suggestions rather than the quantity of suggestions. Many programs encourage the opposite, which is one of the reasons people become so easily discouraged with them; they don't supply much bang for the money and time invested.

I do not believe in anonymous employee suggestions. People should be willing to publicly stand behind their ideas. At least, that’s the kind of company culture I hope you are encouraging in your organization.

In fact, Peter Block, one of the most important Organization Development gurus working today, is opposed to any anonymous feedback (from employee surveys and so on) because of the culture anonymous feedback encourages. Will some employees not turn in suggestions? Probably, but ask yourself what kind of company do you want to create? Encourage organizational courage.

Reward not just the employees who submit winning ideas. Reward and recognize the managers and supervisors who have done the best job of both encouraging employee suggestions and getting out of the way of progress.

Consider including customers and suppliers as suggesters, too, especially as your employee suggestion program matures and is successful.

I have seen many suggestion programs implemented in the past thirty years. Most failed because of the failure of the organizations to pay attention to these points.

People tend to start ill-defined, fuzzy programs that fail to define rewards, implementation strategies and communication systems. People, who fail to get timely feedback, stop submitting ideas. If every idea becomes a “why should we” rather than a “why should we not”, people get discouraged quickly. The process becomes a joke. Or, simply ignored. How many empty suggestion boxes are sitting in companies in America? More than I care to count. Use these suggestions to make sure your employee suggestion program thrives.

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