A Suggestion Scheme as a Listening Tool


Listening is a key concept in stakeholder management. By listening to your stakeholders you can gather valuable information, plug gaps and design appropriate strategies to maximise relationships and reputation.

A Valuable but underutilised tool in many companies is the suggestion scheme. The suggestion scheme can be very useful to pick up hints and ideas to improve processes but could also be seen as a risk management tool. Employees may sometimes use this scheme to communicate issues and risks that exist.

I always check the use of this scheme when doing a communications audit and have been astounded by how few organisations have a flourishing scheme. Almost always the statement is that it is not working. This reflects a lack of strategic planning and championing of the process.

Perhaps this will help you to plan for or revive your suggestion scheme.

ARE MANAGEMENT & STAFF OPEN TO NEW IDEAS AND SUGGESTIONS?

110_036 Before a Suggestion Scheme/Box can be implemented you must consider whether a climate for innovation exist in the organisation.For instance, can any individual answer yes to these two types of questions:

  • "In my business unit new ideas are welcomed and management is willing to support you in the subsequent implementation".
  • "People in my Business unit are open-minded and accept the possibility that there may be better ways of achieving the same objectives"

It is my belief that you will be asking people to be creative and innovative and yet most people don’t believe that they are creative or, are stifled when they are.You will have to provide interventions such as training to enable staff to think beyond the boundaries.

Your aim should be: " How can we stimulate the creative thinking of our people". There is enormous creative potential locked inside the heads of staff, "How can we tap it?"

It starts way before a suggestion box or a suggestion scheme.

Every Organisation suffers from innovation inhibitors – attitudes and policies that limit the search for new ideas. For example, a group of senior managers at a large educational research institution reported recently that managers tend to resist good ideas suggested by subordinates. That is a clear organisational inhibitor to innovation.

In order for the suggestion scheme to work you will have to create awareness of these inhibitors and provide interventions to overcome them. You could for example run a course, on Creativity and Innovation for Senior Management, covering topics such as types of creativity and the creative process, types of thinking, characteristics of the creative organisation, methods to stimulate creativity and innovation and breaking the barriers to corporate creativity.

This will start to create a climate in which suggestions can flourish.

Here is some specific notes on suggestion boxes/schemes that you can use. The suggestion scheme can be approached from two angles i.e.:

  • A new idea scheme
  • A cost saving scheme

PLANNING THE SUGGESTION SCHEME

An analysis of suggestion schemes in world-wide shows that the formula or success in implementing the schemes are as follows:

1. All details of the system must be well planned from the definition of a suggestion to evaluation and award criteria.

2. Responsibility for programmed co-ordination must be assigned to a responsible management member (someone who will "Champion" the cause).

3. Programme details and procedures must be clearly communicated to all employees.

4. Top management must visibly and enthusiastically support the programme and communicate it’s continual commitment to it.

5. Acknowledgements must be prompt.

6. The program must receive ongoing publicity.

I strongly believe that suggestion schemes can work, if properly administered. The question that will arise from the individual is normally: "What is in it for me?"

Adequate financial incentives should be provided but that is not enough.What people really want is public acknowledgement, personal expression of appreciation coupled with financial incentives.

SELLING THE BENEFITS OF A SCHEME

To ensure that a suggestions scheme will succeed, you will have to "sell it" to management and staff, preferably from the top down.

The following steps could prove advantageous in doing so:

1. At the launch of the scheme – the purpose, details and advantages should be spelled out to them orally and then followed up with a written document.

2. An attractive notice or poster, briefly summarising the essential features of the scheme and designed to draw attention to it, should be placed on notice boards in the branches.

3. A suggestion Committee should be selected on the basis of their technical and managerial knowledge to appraise and rate the suggestions fairly and accurately. (Some members noted for their creativity should be included).

4. The suggestions should be evaluated on a regular basis, i.e. bi-monthly.

It is essential that suggestions should be dealt with promptly, so that staff may be assured of the sincere desire of management to receive and evaluate suggestions.

5. Regardless of its value, every suggestion should be acknowledged promptly and as soon as possible the employee who made the suggestion should be advised of the outcome thereof, by personal interview or letter.

This will prevent staff from losing interest in the scheme.

6. Any usable suggestion should result in some definite recognition to the employee concerned, ranging from: Honourable mention, or letter of appreciation to a maximum cash award.

7. In order to ensure impartiality on the part of the members of the committee it is desirable that the person who comes with the idea’s identity be unknown to them to prevent bias.

8. Every suggestion that is adopted should be noted on the staff member’s service record for consideration when the question of promotion arises.

9. The Suggestion Scheme could also be viewed as a complaints channel provided the Department head’s authority is not undermined.

REWARDING SUGGESTIONS

Due thought needs to be given to the award criteria. These can range from tangible to intangible awards.

Financial awards could consist of various grades of suggestions per company ranging from Overall award for the year to Quarterly awards. It can,however,be assisted by other methods:

A Floating Trophy.A large floating trophy should be purchased and be given annually to the company or branch which came up with the best reward, at either the Annual Conference or the AGM. The individual and regions name should be engraved on nameplates and mounted on the trophy. Another factor is that this trophy can be held and displayed at the winning office for the period between judging, thus generating regional pride.

PUBLICIZING THE SCHEME

You will have to actively drive and sell the programme. This could be effected by:

  • The running of promotional campaigns, i.e. using well designed posters, circulars in pay packets etc.
  • Placing photos of staff awarded and an article should be published in the in- house magazine and corporate newsletter.
  • Another alternative can be involvement by the HR Division. The design and running of a "Creativity and Innovation" training workshops can assist in the process. The benefit of this course will be that Managers, including staff, will know how to evaluate ideas, generate ideas and how to share ideas.
  • A climate for suggestions can be created.

What are you doing to capture the thoughts and ideas (the intellectual capital) of your employees? Time and time again research has shown that employees have ideas that can benefit the organisation.

Unfortunately ideas and thoughts are like light bulbs. If not captured, they disappear at the flick of a switch.

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