I'm convinced that every employee has at least one $50,000 idea on the tip of his or her tongue. Yet most companies do little, if anything, to solicit those ideas. If they do decide to take action, it's often in the form of a "Suggestion" box placed in the lunch room with (for some unknown reason) a lock on it!
The result? Most suggestion programs often grind to a half soon after they are started.
Not at Boardroom Inc., a newsletter and book publisher in Greenwich, Conn. This company expects every employee--from receptionist to chairman--to submit at least two ideas each week as part of a program called "I Power." The company credits the program as being an important force behind its fivefold increase in revenues. Employee suggestions get the utmost attention. Each one is evaluated by an employeethe same week it is submitted. That employee has the power to give the person who suggested the idea permission to implement it.
The Program's Foundation During the first year of the program, suggestions were limited to an employee's own job, so that everyone would understand that the intention was less to complain than it was to suggest constructive improvements. The company now holds group meetings to brainstorm and share ideas about money-saving suggestions.
Employees Know Best "Sometimes the best idea comes from the newest, least experienced person on your staff," says Martin Edelston, chairman and CEO of Boardroom. Like the shipping clerk who suggested that the company trim the paper size of one of its books so that it would weigh in below the 4-pound shipping rate and save on postage. The company made the change, which translated into a half-million-dollar profit during the first year alone. Says Edelston, "I had been working in the mail-order business for more than 20 years and never realized there was a 4-pound shipping rate. But the person who was doing the job knew it. Most employees who know their jobs know how they can be improved."
Contributions Count The suggestion program has other, less tangible benefits. Says Antoinette Baugh, director of personnel, "People love working here because they know they can be part of a system where they can make a contribution." Lisa Castonguay, renewals and billing manager, recalls that on her first day of work, she was pulled into a group meeting within 30 minutes of walking in the front door and asked, "What do you think we should do about this problem?" Having come from eight years at a company where she had never been asked her opinion about anything, she was floored!
The impact is contagious. "People became agents of their own change," says Edelston. "There's so much inside all of us, and we don't even know it's there until someone asks about it."
* 1. Encourage initiative by taking initiative--Everyone has an idea that can improve his or her job, department, or the overall company. Find a way to get those ideas out.
* 2. The system is more important than any single idea--Set up a system that is simple, doable, and fun. If the suggestion program becomes a boring burden, it won't last long.
* 3. Stick with it--The best idea may not always be the first one, but the process of valuing your employees' ideas will lead to more and better ones.