What is wrong with suggestion boxes

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A rather common pattern to encourage employees to contribute more and enhance business development is a suggestion box. This kind of channel is a good idea if it is impossible to let employees to influence more directly.

It’s easy to implement a suggestion box wrong:

  1. If a person asks if she can help and then does not help, people pretty soon stop telling ‘how she could help’. The same applies to suggestion boxes. If most of the ideas are ignored and declined, people stop submitting them. The worst thing to do is to ignore ideas and let them die with no response.

  2. Suggestion boxes easily lead to a situation where people wait approval for any improvement from management. In a continuously improving organization people should be able to improve things most of the time without asking permission from anyone. In addition, the delay created by the approval process is waste: If it creates very little value, you probably should get rid off it.

  3. If you cannot or don’t want to implement an idea as-is, the author should always be asked if the modifications are okay or not. I’ve seen situation where this was not done. If the implementation of an idea is completely different than the idea, the author may feel himself disgraced, because he’d like to be treated as equal and intelligent person.

    An analogy helps you to understand this: I go to a store and ask for trousers. The shop clerk visits in the warehouse and gives me socks saying: ‘here you go’. Because the shop clerk seems to be a smart person - I know that - this is either a joke (and I’m the fool in the joke) or he thinks that I’m just stupid.

  4. The person who has an idea often has the best motivation to implement it as well. On the other hand, if author of the idea have no control over it, he might think twice if he wants to give the idea away.

To sum up: The suggestion boxes should not be the only channel for improvements and ideas. The most important thing in making things better should be “don’t ask for permission, just do it”. A slow and picky approval process is poison to ideation and innovations. The second most important thing is to let those people that are most motivated and inspired to realize the idea, also make it real.

Ari-Pekka Lappi is a hybrid philosopher-engineer. He has over 10 years of experience on software development in various different roles, especially as scrum master, developers, solution architect. He has published articles on the philosophy of games and has graduated from University of Helsinki majoring Theoretical philosophy.

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