Culture Confessions: An Employee Suggestion Box or a Black Hole Where Good Ideas Go to Perish?

Employees who feel seen and heard are more likely to feel valued at work, be more engaged, and experience a more meaningful connection to their employer. These positive attitudes foster loyalty and decrease attrition— highly crucial in today’s competitive employment market/war for talent. When employees are emotionally connected, their attitudes become contagious. An employee suggestion program is a wonderful way to encourage inclusion and communication. But it is regularly a program that falls flat after launch, breeding cynicism and distrust— which are culture killers.

Here are seven mistakes to avoid when establishing an employee suggestions system:

1. Lack of Communication: Employers who aren’t clear about the objective and process of the new program—before, during, and after implementation—see the worst results. How will ideas be chosen, implementation announced, progress reported? How will success be recognized? The more details employees know, the better. A well-thought process launched with fanfare followed by equal attention throughout its lifetime lends credibility and inspires participation.

2. Missing Champion: Another sure-fire way to crush or boost credibility is the choice of the leader appointed to champion the program. No designated advocate? That says it all, doesn’t it? Or maybe the champion as a person doesn’t match the goal of the program. Ideally, the leader should be an influential executive, well-like, respected, and trusted by employees. Another success factor to consider: in addition to a popular executive champion, the most effective suggestion programs often have a cross-functional, cross-hierarchal committee of individuals tasked to evaluate and greenlight ideas for implementation.

3. Boxed-in Thinking: Does the program only welcome new ideas or ‘innovative’ thinking? If the company is going to embrace the suggestions process, it needs to put out the welcome mat for all ideas. No matter how small or silly an idea may seem at first, one never knows how significant the impact might be in the end. Be open.

4. Lack of Receptivity & Action: Was “set it and forget it” the attitude taken toward the suggestion program? If there isn’t a predetermined feedback loop or action plan, the program is doomed. Employees need to see submissions being taken seriously (and not personally). What is the process for an idea to go from suggestion to implementation, and what is the timeline employees can expect?

5. Risky Proposition: Does the company have a culture of trust and respect? Of allowing employees a voice without fear of retribution, criticism, or ridicule? Often employees do not participate because they fear their employment or reputation. Is there an option to participate anonymously? The safer employees feel, the more robust the suggestion program.

6. No Incentive: Employees want to add value and be valued. How will their thoughtful consideration for improving the workplace, the business, the bottom line, and the culture be recognized? Monetary rewards are always welcome, but so is public celebration and communication of their ideas. If company budgets are tight, consider other perks that cost little to no money. Designated parking. An extra day off. Half days on Friday for a month. Free lunch. Or a dinner out for their family. A month of coffees. Get creative, but get rewarding—or risk a suggestion program fail.

7. Asking Too Much: Sometimes, companies make the program more complicated than it needs to be. They not only ask for suggestions, but also a detailed plan for implementation, an analysis of potential business impact, a commitment to take on the implementation in addition to the employee’s regular responsibilities and more. Don’t scare off employees with unrealistic demands and expectations.

With these pitfalls in mind, a company has a clear path for success. A well-executed employee suggestion program not only cultivates a positive mindset in the organization, but it also signals to employees that they are integral to the culture and that their contribution matters. In a tight labor market, keeping employees meaningfully engaged and personally invested in the workplace is a sure way to keep them from seeking professional fulfillment elsewhere.

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