Employees' suggestions can be worth millions in savings.

Brainstorming programs can pay off big time. Take First Maryland Bancorp, which has invested less than $3 million in its Brainstorm program and has saved approximately $24 million from the results. That's a payoff some eight times greater than the initial investment!

An equal benefit, says the company's senior vice president Brian King, was that the program made employees more aware of how they spent the company's money. They became more entrepreneurial, more creative, and more bottom-line oriented.

Think: Profit

Employee suggestion programs run the gamut, from a suggestion box to programs with their own office space and budgets. The biggest problem with all of these programs is that employee enthusiasm tends to drop quickly, as do the number and quality of suggestions. By limiting the Brainstorm program to 12 weeks, First Maryland Bancorp was able to maintain peak enthusiasm the whole time. And the committees charged with reviewing the suggestions were charged with deciding on them within seven days of their submission.

Employees were encouraged to get together in teams to generate ideas for increasing revenues or decreasing expenses. For whatever ideas the team members developed, they had to investigate the potential savings or impact on costs, and to develop quantitative justifications supporting those assessments. In other words, it wasn't enough for a team to say, “We suggest that Saturday work hours be cut back.” To be accepted as part of the Brainstorm program, the suggestion had to be accompanied by a detailed cost-benefit analysis showing how much money would likely be saved if the idea was implemented by the company.

Another drawback of these programs is that they can cut into productivity if employees spend more time on suggestion committees than they do on their jobs. First Maryland Bancorp made sure that employees participated in the program only during spare time at work or after normal working hours. And many were happy to do so, not only for the potential of a big payoff for coming up with the winning suggestions, but also to feel that they were making a difference.

Bob Nelson is president of Nelson Motivation Inc. in San Diego, and best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, and 1001 Ways to Take Initiative at Work, as well as his Rewarding Employees newsletter. Contact him at (800) 575-5521, on the Web at www.Nelson-Motivation.com, or by e-mail at BobRewards @aol.com.

Take Out

  1. Get top management to buy into the program — They must be willing to support the suggestions that come out of it.

  2. Kick off the program with a splash — At First Maryland Bancorp, the company's CEO, Charles W. Cole, recorded a personal video message for all employees and participated in meetings to launch the effort. Cole also announced that no employees would lose their jobs as a result of the program.

  3. Train program participants well — This should be done before the program is officially rolled out.

  4. Create worthwhile rewards — Of the $3 million invested in the Brainstorm program, about $2 million was spent on rewards.