Discover how to effectively garner employee suggestions and turn them
by Ron Kaufman
today demand greater innovation. Changes are coming faster than ever
before, and your competitors are ever more nimble. Customers have rising
expectations. You need new ideas, better processes, more innovative
products and services, and more effective ways to build strong futures
with those customers.
Market research, customer focus groups and surveys are
valuable tools for innovation. In the current economic climate though,
it is time to revisit the “Staff Suggestion Scheme”—a low-cost yet
effective technique when done right.
Companies can no longer survive with staff members who expect
management to provide “all the right answers.” Today, companies require
a steady flow of ideas and solutions from those who are closest to the
processes and the customers, those with their “ears to the ground.”
To maintain an adaptable and responsive organization, you
must develop a culture that actively solicits input and recommendations
from every level of your staff.
Most leaders and senior managers are more receptive to this
approach than ever before. But how can you transform the mindset of
staff, who, for years or even generations, were trained to “keep your
mouths shut, lay low, just follow orders?” How can you encourage your
staff to open their minds, explore new ideas and share their best
The “Staff Suggestion Scheme” is a time-honored process of
wooden boxes and preprinted forms for staff to write their ideas and
submit them for management consideration.
Many companies have tried this approach, but few can report
real satisfaction with the number, consistency or quality of staff
contributions. Even fewer can report widespread enthusiasm for their
“Suggestion Schemes” at all.
Here are six ideas you can implement right away to make your
suggestion scheme more effective.
1 Respond to all written staff suggestions immediately (within one
week) and in writing. Be candid. If the answer is no, say so. If the
answer is yes, state when staff will see implementation. If the answer
is maybe, explain the issues involved and give a date for further reply.
And stick to it. Nothing builds trust and credibility faster than making
new promises—and keeping them.
One exception: Do not reply to obscene or abusive
suggestions. A strong company culture has no place for such destructive
“input.” Your best response is to not reply.
2 Respond to suggestions publicly, for all to see. Usually, when one
staff member writes, he or she speaks what is on the minds of many.
Reply openly on a designated bulletin board, in a weekly printed update
or by e-mail. Thank the writers for their queries or contributions.
Include staff names on suggestions to be implemented.
3 Give an award, prize or monetary incentive for best suggestions, and
give it right away. Many suggestion schemes invoke a multistep process
for valuation and eventual granting of an award. First, the suggestion
boxes are emptied (sometimes only once a month). Second, a committee
sifts and sorts for “realistic” submissions. Third, a management
committee appraises the freshness, viability, cost savings or increased
revenue from each suggestion. Fourth, someone in “senior management”
decides upon the amount of reward to be given to the appropriate staff
members. And finally, an actual awarding of the “prize” is conducted.
The cycle time for this process is usually four weeks or
longer. In some cases, the senior management review is conducted only
once a quarter. What is your company’s cycle time for awarding prizes
for a staff suggestion? Would you be inspired if you had to wait that
Try this approach: Dedicate $1,200 (or your equivalent) to
the project. Give the money away in $100 increments every month for one
year. Each month, give $50 for the best idea; $20 for the second-best
idea; and $10 each to the third-, fourth- and fifth-best suggestions.
In the first months, few may believe that you will give out
the money in a timely manner, and possibly only a handful of staff will
participate. But no matter how small or meager the suggestions, give
out the money anyway! As soon as staff realize you are serious, the
boxes will be filled with suggestions.
4 Establish different categories for your awards. Clear categories can
help staff focus and generate new ideas. Here are examples of categories
you can use:
• Ideas that can be implemented immediately
• Ideas for getting closer to our customers
• Suggestions for cost savings or increasing revenue
• New ideas focusing on a chosen theme for the month
• Ideas that most dramatically challenge the current paradigm
• Recommendations for the future direction of our business.
5 Make a big event out of awarding your suggestion scheme prizes. Some
companies use lunches, staff teas or monthly meetings to award prizes.
One company makes up large, special “dollar bills” for each winning
suggestion. In the center is the face of the staff member who
contributed. In the corners is the amount of money his or her suggestion
earned. And surrounding the portrait is a description of the suggestion
These “dollar bills” line the wall of the staff lounge and
company cafeteria. The result is group recognition for winners and a
“culture building” impact that keeps the suggestion scheme going
At the end of the year, give recognition to the volume of
suggestions received, the winners who have been rewarded and the changes
enacted as a result. Then, pose a challenge to everyone to double the
volume of suggestions in the coming year.
And, if the quality of ideas warrant, double your cash
prizes, too. Four winners a month last year? Increase it to eight
winners per month next year. If the ideas are good, it’s certainly worth
6 Most of all, implement. Act upon what your staff suggests. Nothing
demonstrates your commitment to this approach better than a staff
suggestion recognized, rewarded and immediately put to work.
Ron Kaufman is an international educator and motivator for uplifting
customer service, partnerships and superior service culture. He is the
author of the best-selling book series UP Your Service! and the 11-title
inspirational book series Lift Me Up! As the founder of UP Your Service!
College, his clients include government agencies and multinationals in
every major industry sector. For more information, visit