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How Employee Suggestion Programs Can Improve The Manufacturing Industry

Posted on November 13, 2014

In recent years, innovation hubs have begun to accelerate American manufacturing processes. In June 2014, for example, 15 of 18 manufacturing industries grew revenue-wise (via the Institute for Supply Management’s monthly reporting). With rising labor costs and environmental concerns in China, some previously outsourced manufacturing is returning to the United States. In order to continue to keep jobs in the country, innovation will need to continue to play a large role.

One crucial aspect of continued innovation management in the manufacturing space will be employee engagement as a focal point. Software programs will continue to be developed that can move a widget from Point A to Point Z more effectively and at less cost, but your employees are on the frontlines of the work your organization does. Their understanding of processes and problems could propel you to tremendous growth, but only if you have a way to capture it, listen to it, and analyze it.

Examples of Employee Engagement in Manufacturing

1. American Airlines

American Airlines’ employee suggestion program, IdeAAs, helped the company save $600 million across 13 years after its introduction. $79 million of that was given back to employees in the form of bonuses, and the rest was invested in two planes for the overall fleet. AA’s previous President/Chairman, Don Carty, said this of the IdeAAs program in 2001:

"People love to have people listen to them. This is a vehicle for them to feel empowered, and it's a wonderful way of saying to employees, 'We see you as a link in the chain that makes the whole thing work.'"

There’s intrinsic value in the approach. It can keep employees more invested in the organization. There is also bottom-line value: Two planes were purchased, and thousands of employees received extra compensation as the result of ideas captured by the employee engagement program.

2. Aeroquip-Inoac Co. 

Similarly, AIC’s manufacturing plant in Livingston, TN reduced their turnover rate to 1.6% based on employee suggestions, while also doubling their workforce (70 to 187 employees) over a single year. In 1999, each employee at the plant averaged 8.5 suggestions, with a total savings value back to the organization of $741,761.

Again, this is important to emphasize: often when revenue decision-makers look at topics like “employee engagement,” they view it as something that could be good for morale, but doesn’t directly relate back to the bottom line. In the above examples, it does.

How Can This Work For Your Organization? 

Running a successful employee suggestion program in the manufacturing space requires many of the same basic business skills that deploying any new initiative requires:

Most of all, as Tom Jensen, head of the Center for Suggestion System Development, has noted, all successful suggestion programs have one central thing in common: quick, thoughtful responses. If the idea is acknowledged within 24 hours, even with a promise to do more research on it, employees begin to see a buy-in to the overall concept.

Managing the process for rapid response requires the right employee suggestion program.  

We offer one such platform at Vocoli. Our goal is to foster innovation management regardless of industry or niche. We want to set up an easy-to-follow, routed delivery for employee ideas so they reach the right place and can be acted upon quickly and effectively. We also fully understand that not all innovations/employee ideas are created equal, and we have systems for routing out the ones that would become time-consuming without as much of a value-add.

Within manufacturing, often the focus can be on the terms surrounding the specific school of thought -- Kaizen, lean, etc. Our systems can work regardless of terminology and approach, because they’re customized to your organization, from single sign-on to API integration to anything else you need from us. Our simple goal is to find the best ideas, route them to the right people, and help you increase revenue and morale at the same time.


We’d love to talk you through any direct challenges you may be facing.

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