7 Considerations for Suggestion Box Programs

by Sharlyn Lauby on July 29, 2012

Years ago, I worked for a company that was faced with a financial challenge. They needed to cut $1M from their leadership, hr, suggestions, suggestion box, employee satisfaction, buy-inbudget. So they looked to the classic “suggestion box” program for help.

The thinking was, we needed help and who better than the company employees to offer guidance. Let them tell us how we can do this. And the employees did – to the tune of adding significant revenue. That’s right, what started out to be an expense-cutting exercise ending up making the company millions of dollars.

The other day, someone asked me about suggestion boxes so I can’t resist sharing the story and what I learned along the way about implementing a suggestion program. Here’s the list:

  1. Have a purpose. A suggestion program needs to serve a purpose within the company. It needs to tie to a business goal. For example: The suggestions must either reduce costs or improve revenue. This sets a clear expectation for the program as well as saying it will not be a substitute for communication and feedback.
  2. Get leadership buy-in. Like so many company programs, if senior leadership doesn’t embrace it…it’s toast. And when it comes to suggestion programs, they need to review the suggestions. Their acceptance is essential. Once the program purpose is defined, use it to get their buy-in.
  3. Get employees on-board. A suggestion program is not an anonymous gripe box. Make sure the purpose of the program is clearly communicated. Because if employees think their suggestions are going into some abyss then they won’t use it…and the program becomes worthless.
  4. Put someone in charge of it. A good suggestion program takes time and coordination. Designate someone to collect suggestions, answer questions about the program, and follow-up with submissions. Having a designated representative also adds credibility to the program.
  5. Recognize and reward good suggestions. If someone shares a good suggestion that meets the purpose of the program and aligns with a business goal – reward them for it. If an employee saves the company $25,000 … the thank you should be reflective of it. Not with a $5 Starbucks gift card or a $25 Amazon gift certificate. No offense to these companies, but that hardly seems fair. Give rewards that align with the benefit of the suggestion.
  6. Have a sunset clause. I think one of the reasons that suggestion programs get a bad rap is because they get stale. A suggestion program does not have to become a fixture within the company. Consider giving the program a sunset clause (i.e. ending date). That way, the program can be evaluated and improved upon the next time you want to use it.

Lastly, companies should think about reimagining the physical suggestion box concept using technology. There’s got to be a way to electronically capture the ideas. It would make getting ideas and evaluating them a lot easier.

While the concept of suggestion boxes might be a bit old skool, I think they can have some new life in them. Have you used suggestion programs before? Share your experience in the comments.

Image courtesy of Robert Smith

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Stephen Ross August 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Hi Sharlyn.
This post brought me back to a post you made a week or two ago about the if management is necessary in today’s world; it ties into the theme of a company using its biggest asset for decision-making: its human capital. Having something such as a suggestion box allows employees to move beyond their normal responsibilities (and pay grade) to manifest their visions and ideas, something that is lacking in the traditional management-employee disconnect.
Stephen Ross recently posted..Is Your Company Looking Towards the Future?

Young August 2, 2012 at 10:41 am

I love the “Suggestion Box” idea, and always have. I think it works.
Just don’t lose the “key” to open it -like I did.

I like putting someone responsible other than the “boss” for making that idea more beneficial to the employees.

Thank you for the good information about suggestion boxes.

Sharlyn Lauby August 2, 2012 at 11:34 am

Thanks for the comments. I agree that when administered properly, suggestion programs can open up the lines of communication.

And don’t fret if you lose the key! I’ve done that one myself. ha.ha. It reinforces the need to move toward a technology solution. Then we have to worry about forgetting our password. LOL!

Duncan - Vetter August 4, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I couldn’t agree more with No. 4 – Put someone in charge of it. Of the few customers we have (online suggestion boxes), they all have a man or woman appointed to head up the promotion and processing of the suggestion box.

In contrast, the companies who take free trials with us, and don’t have a ‘go-to-guy/gal’ for the project, usually give up after a week or two.

Sharlyn Lauby August 6, 2012 at 8:58 am

Duncan – so true! Every project needs a champion. Otherwise it’s off to a bad start. Thanks for sharing.

Dusan August 12, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Great steps! There is a free online tool for giving anonymous feedback (sort of a virtual suggestion box) at http://dropatruthbomb.com. It’s an add free site that’s main purpose is to give employees a voice without a fear of reprisal. It is very secure and anonymity and constructive feedback comes before all else. There is a walk-through on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sv0lhnEgkW4).

Leila May 13, 2013 at 7:58 pm

I really enjoyed your article! The above are all great suggestions for employee suggestion box programs, especially point #6 – having a sunset clause. I created a tutorial on employee suggestion programs to easily understand what an employee suggestion program is and how to effectively implement it: http://ow.ly/kNDIL
Leila recently posted..How to Create an Employee Suggestion Form

Steven September 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Thanks, we used some of this informaiton on our site http://hunchbuzz.com/suggestion-box-for-employee-staff/
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