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 percent of an organisation’s performance improvement potential lies in front-line ideas. For many organisations, 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 organisations 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. Organisations 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 organisations, 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:
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:
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 organisation 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.
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