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Incentivizing Government Suggestions

Posted on June 11, 2015

Here is a quick business quiz, see if you can answer the following questions:

1. Would you pay $290 to save $5,700?
2. Would you pay $2,300 to save $46,000?
3. Would you pay $3,500 to save $300,000?
4. Would you pay $7,000 to save $4.8 million?
5. Last one: how much would you pay to prevent a catastrophic injury lawsuit for the foreseeable future . . .  would $100 be too much?

This should, hopefully, be one of the easiest tests you've ever taken. The answer to all six is "Yes, these are all good uses of money."

The good news is these figures are not made up but are real numbers. All are the results of The City of Phoenix's wildly successful 2008 employee suggestion program, which paid a bonus to workers based on how much their idea would save.

According to the fact sheet:

1. Attaching a security chain to manhole covers to prevent thefts -  Amount paid to the employee for the idea $290, savings attained $5,700.

2. Converting AZ Science Center and Shemer House to LED lighting - Idea cost $2,300 for a savings of $46,000.

3. Install solar panels at Rio Salado Natural Habitat Restoration Project to  
power the automatic controller 24 hours a day - $3,500 prize for the idea to deliver a savings of $300,000.

4. There were two ideas at a cost of $3,500, each generated a total of $4.8 million in savings. The first involved rehabilitating an existing bridge with the latest technology rather than rebuilding it. The second involved painting all the airport terminal buses the same color.

5. The last one - $100 - was paid out for the idea to "Install warning signs of blind curves, falling rocks and loose gravel at South Mountain Park." Doing so prevented potential accident lawsuits which could cost the city millions in damages.

Totaled together from 2008-2012, Phoenix saved more than $15.3 million through its employee suggestion program.

Employee Suggestions as The Middle Way

Government can be a frustrating business as we are a nation torn between two competing ideals. On the one hand we like the services government provides - whether they are the roads we drive on, the clean water we drink, the military that protects us, or various other social programs.

And, on the other hand, we hate paying taxes. Taxes are a burden and a chore and we’d all like ours lowered. This conflict leads to the central dilemma in politics - government services are great but at what cost? Are we paying too much? How can we determine what is bloat and what is essential?

Given the recent gridlock and partisan fighting in Congress, it can sometimes seem as if the two ideals are irreconcilable. But what if there was a middle way? What if there was something simple we could put in place to end the gridlock and ensure the government provided top quality services at a low cost?

Phoenix’s successful employee suggestion program suggests there is a middle way. These programs are something everyone can agree on and bridges the divide between good government services and lower taxes. Employee suggestion programs have the opportunity to optimize performance in all spheres of government.

Unfortunately look to government progress on implementing this simple step and it looks like a throwback to the Stone Age. More often than not, employee suggestion programs don’t look like Arizona’s and instead look like this one where employees are forced to download a form, fill it out and physically mail it to the Capitol where it is said to be reviewed by some nameless, faceless board. The entire process screams, "Don't bother."

As the City of Phoenix program shows us, the prize is there for the taking. Economists have been telling us for years that incentivizing behavior is the best way to get more of it. The time is long past due to update the employee suggestions systems for government employees on all levels and reap the rewards.

If your town or city is ready to take the leap into an employee and citizen-based suggestion program call the Vocoli team today. Vocoli is an easy-to-use platform that will help your local government revitalize the way it looks at infrastructure, economic development and much more. We are available any time at or by calling 888.919.5300.

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