Your employees probably have many good ideas. But getting those ideas out in the open and acting on them requires your initiative. Too often management doesn’t listen to employees unless there is a structured system.The potential benefits of maintaining a structured system — a vital employee suggestion program — far outweigh the costs.
Employers with suggestion programs save $70,000 to $100,000 per 100 employees per year. (Statistics are gathered annually from members by the Employee Involvement Association.) If you don’t have an employee suggestion program, or if your program needs a facelift, here are suggestions. Be definitive in your rules right from the start. Suggestion program guidelines should be part of your employee handbook or detailed in a separate publication on the program. Make sure your plan is fair, adequately funded and voluntary. And don’t present it as an employee benefit.
1. Decide what you want. Example: “Our aim is to come up with innovations that reduce costs while building value. We’ll never take value out of your products.” This makes it clear that product-cheapening ideas are not the goal.
2. Decide who your employees should tell. Often suggestions are submitted through a supervisor on a pre-printed form and signed by both the contributor and supervisor. Offer writing assistance to solicit ideas from employees who have difficulty expressing their thoughts in writing.
3. Emphasize the critical role your managers and supervisors play. They can stifle your efforts to tap employee creativity if they respond to every suggestion with a list of reasons why it won’t work. Their role instead is to come up with ways an idea might work.
Frequently, fundamentally incorrect suggestions serve as a trigger for other, more applicable and unique solutions.
Here’s an example: The office comedian suggests that to reduce employee turnover employees’ legs should be tied together so they can’t walk away. Stupid idea, right? But the comment stimulates a creative employee to suggest a winning idea: hire more handicapped employees, known for their loyalty and low turnover rate.
4. Decide what employees will get in return. Small amounts of cash, public recognition, plaques, award ceremonies, merchandise, humorous gifts, and traveling trophies are examples of rewards. A non-cash material reward continues to be a reminder of the honor as long as the employee owns it or displays it. Also consider days off, free lunch, VIP parking.
Recognize non-winning contributions with a thank you or honorable mention award. All suggestions deserve a response.
Example: “Thank you for your suggestion. However, after some consideration, we feel we cannot implement it at this time because…”
Also give recognition to those who facilitated winning suggestions — supervisors, evaluator, and implementers. Motivation is a key factor to success of your plan, so be sensitive to what motivates your employees. Rewards are not always needed. One employer received 4,000 suggestions after asking for new business ideas, even though no reward was offered.
5. Generate fresh interest from time to time. Run a campaign targeting a specific issue like scrap reduction, and offer special rewards.
6. Re-create the whole program if yours is old and dormant. An employee contest to suggest a new name and design a logo can kick off the rebirth. Revamp the guidelines. Remember to add them to your employee handbook.
Volunteer “idea advocates” were added at American Airlines facilities to champion the suggestion cause among fellow workers. One day of training got them off and running. Suggestions were up 50 to 300 percent, thanks to the volunteers.
7. Expect employees to be creative. Convince employees they have creative potential. Tell them you know they can solve problems. If you don’t expect much from your employees, you’re not likely to get much.
8. Avoid the impression that this is just “another new program.” Employees don’t respond well to the prospect of “one more thing to do.”
9. Make sharing good ideas part of each employee’s job.
Your company doesn’t really have a suggestion program until all your employees know…
- What you want;
- Who to tell; and
- What they’ll get in return.
- To be heard;
- To be “in on things;”
- To demonstrate their creative abilities;
- A challenge; and
- A sense of achievement.
You can motivate employees if they know your organization will consider their suggestions when deciding raises and promotions.