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7 Tips For Creating Employee Suggestion Programs

How to create lasting employee engagement initiatives

Posted on October 25, 2013

Employee suggestion programs (also known as ESPs) are one of the best ways to engage employees and involve them in the business strategy process.

(Not to toot our own horn, but we know a little bit about ESPs since our platform runs some of the most successful programs out there.)

That said, if your organization hasn't implemented one before, it can be confusing to decide where to begin. In this post, we'll give you seven tips to get you started.

1. Obtain senior management buy-in.

This is the first and most important first step in implementing an employee suggestion program. If company leaders aren’t listening and actually implementing suggestions, employees have no reason to participate.

Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a study about underutilized suggestion box programs. It notes that 36% of businesses with employee suggestion programs feel “top leaders do not see the program as a critical contributor to innovation” (R. Hastings SHRM: Employee Suggestion Programs Underutilized)

If you want people to care about a program, first commit to making it work from the top down. Get the entire team excited about it and create a company culture of open communication and innovation.

2. Develop an internal promotion plan.

Suggestion boxes won’t do you any good if no one’s participating. Make sure employees are aware of the program and understand the benefits of participation.

Have a plan for how you’re going to market the program to everyone. Make sure they know about how it works and the benefits it can bring to the organization. Keeping senior management involved will help ensure that the program remains relevant.

And speaking of senior management, when you first announce and launch the program, make sure the first communication comes from your CEO or de-facto leader. Glitz and glamor in marketing programs is great, but nothing beats a personal email, video or presentation by your organization's leader touting why this program is so important to an organization. That step alone will have an enormous impact on adoption.

Which brings us to part three...

3. Make it easy to offer suggestions- keep the channel open and the ideas flowing.

It’s crucial to maintain a steady pace for managing ideas as they come in. Don’t lose office morale with lost suggestions.

Do this by setting suggestion guidelines. Make it clear. What topics are open to suggestion? Can they submit suggestions that are part of their normal job, or are those off-limits? Are some suggestions more likely to be implemented than others? Are specific sectors in need of help?

Ideas to start with:

  • Generate savings
  • Increase productivity
  • Boost morale
  • Eliminate waste
  • Improve customer satisfaction.
  • Decrease accidents

These topics open employees up to a wider range of consideration and offer a platform to work from.

Also, consider campaigns requesting ideas to specific problems or issues within the organization. Encourage members within your organization to submit ideas as a team.

4. Agree on recognition - Are you offering incentives for participation?

Offering incentives or rewards for participation is a heavily debated topic. Innovation comes from motivated employees who are willing take well thought out risks. But at what promise of reward? Often it’s considered that the greater the risk, the greater chance for reward. But this also offers a greater chance for failure. 

The same SHRM poll mentioned earlier found that 44% of respondents said employees receive no form of incentive to offer suggestions, and of those that do incentivize behavior, the predominant form of incentive is recognition.

This can work well in many businesses. A little good will can go a long way and rewarding your employees with recognition reinforces their position of value. Often it gives them a sense of ownership over their work which inspires greater confidence and performance.

Another popular system for reward is basing it off of the savings from changes implemented. If an employee saves the business $50,000, they may see a percent of that savings as their prize for creating the successful idea.

There’s no right or wrong answer. What’s right for another organization may not be right for yours. Test various reward mechanisms to uncover your best bets for success.

5. Respond quickly to suggestions

Acknowledging and responding to suggestions quickly reinforces the notion that employees are being heard and ideas aren’t falling on deaf ears. This makes employees feel valued and increases motivation to participate. Generate discussion. Submit more suggestions.

There’s nothing worse to a potential contributor to have them put a great idea into a suggestion box, and to have no one even let them know “thanks for your idea.”

To be blunt, no feedback will be the death of your suggestion program.

6. Create functional diversity in your expert reviewers

Review teams and/or expert reviewers should include a cross-section of leaders from the organization. While senior management may seem out of touch with the workforce, they hold the power to implement change.

If lower managers have to track down bosses to sign off on ideas, changes will take much longer to implement and are less likely to be seen through. Creating diversity of expert reviewers simplifies this process and increases a diversity of ideas to be considered.

7. Implement ideas

Number seven on our list ultimately becomes the most important for managers. Suggestions only matter if they are implemented in a timely manner. Obviously, not every idea can be implemented, but managers should help employees iterate on ideas and get them ready for show time.

What suggestions do you have for employee suggestion program first-timers? Tweet us @_Vocoli and let us know. 



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