Engaging your staff to improve operations is one of today's hot trends and one way to do it is by suggestion box. It is a method widely used in both the public sector and companies. Painfully often the activity which was launched years ago has been let to fade. In situations like these, the relaunch of suggestion box to staff is needed.
Good planning is the cornerstone of kicking off any activity. Successful kick-off and the benefits of active participation are secured by following these tips. These tips are based on research conducted by Lappeenranta University of Technology and the best practices of Orchidea Innovations.
The steps of a successful launch of a suggestion box are
- Assure the management commitment
- Define the process and the rules
- Set the key performance indicators
- Motivate to participate
- Create annual plan
- Integrate with existing processes
Piece of cake, right? Now, let's get deeper into each one of the steps.
1. Assure the management commitment
Managers at all levels of the organization have a huge effect on how your staff participates. According to a study published in Harvard Business Review the companies that involved mid-level managers two or more levels below the CEO were most successful in their change efforts. Assure management commitment by making sure that they are aware of why you have decided to invest in the suggestion scheme. Best practice is to give examples of how they can help make the launch successful. It is also recommended to tell which behaviors might be harmful.
Collect inputs from the managers on the launch plan, suggestion management, and rules. When they get to influence the implementation, they become more committed to it. Therefore, it is important to involve key managers in the planning process.
2. Define the process and the rules
By researching the creative process of innovation, it has been found that an idea improves when other people can develop it with their comments. Therefore, it is important to welcome other people to develop the suggestion with their thoughts. Orchidea Innovations has developed a modern, transparent suggestion box approach together with its customers. The approach combines the traditional suggestion scheme with the best practices of modern innovation research.
Things to consider when defining the suggestion box process flow are
- A transparent suggestion box process where all information is visible to the users increases trust and creates positive pressure on the persons in charge of making decisions. Online suggestion box software makes it easy for participants to review the status of the suggestion.
- A simple process flow is often the best.
- The decision whether the suggestion is implemented on not should be done by persons who would be responsible for implementing them.
- Employee suggestion box rules have to be clear and well-communicated to all participants
3. Set the key performance indicators
Properly set key performance indicators (KPIs) that meet the SMART criteria helps organizations to reach their business goals. Examples of typical KPIs for suggestion box are
- Number of suggestions; The goal of the whole organization should be distributed to business units and their managers.
- Lead time of the suggestion process; The time between the submission of the suggestion and the final decision. The pursuit of the shortest possible lead time is not recommended. It is good to reserve 1 to 4 weeks for further development of suggestions by co-workers. Instead of minimizing the lead time, it is advisable to set a maximum lead time that should not be exceeded.
- Number of development comments; The best innovations are created by iteration cycles and the cooperation of multiple people. Therefore, it is important that the whole organization sees the suggestions and is able to develop them further.
The KPIs should be communicated so that everybody knows them. This sets expectations for participation and the speed of decision-making. The KPIs should be easy to follow with a dashboard of the online suggestion box.
4. Motivate to participate
Based on a research the most important reasons for submitting suggestions are
- Employee’s frustration with the processes and a will to change them (23.2%)
- Desire to improve success of the organization (18.1%)
- Desire to save money for the organization (17.9%)
- Personal satisfaction (10.7%)
- money/rewards (9.7%)
Based on this research it feels like there is too much focus on external motivators like money. Based on our experiences the recognition of active participants and good suggestion is at least as important as financial rewarding.
If you are planning to have monetary rewards, we suggest that the rewarding should be based on the actual financial benefits gained by the organization. Case research conducted by the Lappeenranta University of Technology demonstrated that public recognition and the transparency of the rewarding are in a key role. The research also suggests that the righteousness of the rewarding is important.
5. Create annual plan
By planning the activity 12 months forward it is more likely that there is a steady flow of activities which creates active participation. Typical elements included in the annual plan are
- Competitions and challenges; Topic-based suggestion challenge is an easy way to activate participation and collect suggestions on topics that are important for the business. It is important to plan the timing beforehand because the challenge usually lasts 4 to 8 weeks. With careful planning, vacation times and end-of-year rushes are avoided.
- Regular rewarding and recognition; Suggestion of the month or quarter recognition is a great way to keep people engaged.
- Regular meetings with suggestion managers; The agenda of meetings includes topics like development suggestions, KPI review and corrective actions.
- Events: Events are a great way to motivate employees. Some customers have arranged a gala, where the best suggestions of the year are rewarded. Team meetings, where new initiatives are collected, and the existing ones developed, is a good example of an event concentrating on collecting suggestion.
The kick-off should not be before the holiday season. Otherwise, there is a risk of low participation rates because everyone is concentrated on getting their tasks done before the holidays. People also tend to forget new things launched just before the holidays.
Big organizations should avoid launching the activity for the whole organization at once. Starting with a smaller, motivated, pilot group is often the best way to kick off. After a successful pilot, the members of the group can be used as references when the program is expanded to larger audiences. It is also easier for new participants to join when there are already users and content in the suggestion system.
Successful kick-off is more than one all-staff email and a post on the intranet. The reality is that employees are busy it requires more to get employees' attention. Here are some examples of successful launch tactics
- The program is launched in a separate event or as a part of the organization's monthly or quarterly meeting. A contest with rewards is launched with the program.
- The suggestion team visit team meetings to educate and activate.
- A suggestion number target is set up for the first month. Progress towards the target is tracked and communicated weekly.
- The suggestion team follows the discussions about suggestions and rewards active participants. News about the rewards and their suggestions are published in internal communication channels.
- Puzzle pieces of the suggestion system logo are spread across the desks of employees. By finding colleagues with the pieces fitting together and by bringing them to the cafeteria employees are rewarded with cake.
- Kick-off includes the launch of a suggestion challenge. New ideas related to an important theme are collected in the challenge.
- The first suggestions after the launch are processed quickly and implemented instantly. News about the implementation are published.
7. Integrate with existing processes
The goal in the long run is to integrate the suggestion scheme into the existing processes of the organization. It is important to maintain high activity levels with active communication and regular campaigns. As important is to track the suggestion box process flow lead times and react to slow processing. The best way to keep employees excited is to implement the best suggestions fast and communicate the results regularly.
Examples of ways to integrate with existing processes are
- Organize a suggestion campaign when the organization is expanding to a new field of business
- Integrate the rewarding of suggestion scheme with a general reward and recognition policy
- Include an introduction of the suggestion scheme into the new employees’ introduction program
- Link suggestion scheme to strategy and objectives of the organization
Launching a suggestion box is not hard but it should be done systematically. For the first couple of years, it is most important to follow both the participation of employees and the lead times of the process. Corrective actions should be done if needed. In the long run, the objective is to integrate the process into the day-to-day processes of the organization. When this is achieved the need for suggestion scheme-specific staff activation and communication decreases.