Peter A Hunter | Feb 18, 2009
Most suggestion schemes consist of a box with a label on it that says “suggestions” and that is what the scheme consists of.
Pretty soon the box fills up with banana skins but never any suggestions.
The workforce are blamed for the failure of another scheme that could have helped the business and that is the end of it, without anyone ever figuring out the reason for the failure.
There are two reasons for the failure of a suggestion scheme and they both have their roots in the way that the workforce feels about what it does.
The first is the way that the members of the workforce feel about what they are doing in the long term.
The way that the workforce feel about their jobs depends to a huge extent on the behaviour of their managers.
Unfortunately many managers don’t realise the extent to which their behaviour influences the way that their workforce feels or how that affects their ability to perform.
By not being aware of it managers are not able to change the behaviour that makes the workforce feel this way.
In small organisations where everybody has a first name this problem is less prevalent because the workforce are still people.
As the organisation gets bigger managers have less and less time to spend on individuals and make the excuse that they are now too busy “managing” to have the time to deal with the individual egos of the workforce.
Even without a suggestion box, suggestions are continually submitted to management but because management are too busy to deal with individuals they never say thank you or give any feedback.
This is the behaviour that prevents employees from making any more suggestions.
We think carefully about an idea, we use our own knowledge and experience to craft the suggestion, and then we are ignored when we submit it.
It feels like a slap in the face.
Being ignored hurts and this behaviour makes us very unwilling to stick our necks out to risk another slap.
The second reason that these schemes fail has its roots in the general resistance that the workforce have to anything they are told to do by management.
This is partly due to the long-term resistance created by the repeated behaviour of management but it can also be generated by the way that the suggestion scheme is implemented in the short term.
Big yellow boxes are nailed to the wall, labelled boldly with the words “Suggestion Box” and the workforce are told to fill these boxes with suggestions.
Quick as a flash, nothing happens, so management call a meeting and tell the workforce again that these boxes are for their own good, they must fill them with ideas.
Still no ideas, so rather than wasting any more time management move on to their next good idea and the boxes remain as mute testimony to the inability of management to manage people.
In both instances management have created the resistance that caused the scheme to fail, but in both instances they have no idea what that behaviour is, if they did they would change it.
The problems are both created by the behaviour of management towards the workforce so the solutions are the same.
Change the way that the managers behave towards the workforce, the suggestion scheme is the perfect vehicle to show the workforce this change of behaviour.
Put up big yellow boxes labelled boldly with the words “Suggestion Box,” but don’t make any announcements about them or tell the workforce how to use them. They are big and yellow and have writing on them, the workforce don’t need to be told what they are, they know, and to be called to a meeting to have the concept of a suggestion box explained to them is insulting.
Someone will have a burning issue or perhaps someone will just want to test the system, the first suggestion will be posted.
What is done with this suggestion, and every one that follows it, is absolutely critical to the success of the suggestion scheme and the way that the workforce feel about what they do.
What is key is that the originator of the suggestion must be given feedback and he must receive that feedback as soon as possible after the suggestion is made.
That feedback can only be allowed to be one of two things. Good idea, we are going to do that, thank you, or, good idea, thank you but we are not going to do that, and this is the reason why not.
Both these responses change the way that the originator feels about what he is doing. He knows that someone is listening, he knows that someone is valuing his opinion, and that feels good.
The originator has experienced a change in the behaviour of management and will be very quick to tell his colleagues that something different is happening,
Each time a suggestion is received the originator must receive this same feedback and it is this feedback that will start to change the way the workforce feels about what they do.
Goethe said in 1749 “If we treat people the way we think that they ought to be then that is what they will become.”
If we start to treat the workforce as if they are a group of valuable individuals then that is what they will become.
In one suggestion scheme run using these principles a crew of 60 in the North Sea saved their operator £3.9 Million in one year from the practical changes made by implementing ideas from the Suggestion Box.
Run this way the suggestion box becomes more than a Big Yellow Box.
It becomes the source of practical ideas that come from the people who actually do the job, a source of suggestions for getting rid of problems that management do not even know existed.
The second thing that happens is that being listened to and getting the feedback from these suggestions changes the way that the workforce feel about what they do.
They become proud of what they do and that has a huge impact on the way that they perform.
To make the suggestion box fail is easy, there are two things.
The first is, tell people to use the suggestion scheme.
The second is, don’t give any feedback.
To make the suggestion scheme succeed.
Don’t tell people to use it and always give feedback.
In the first instance nothing will change except that the failure of the scheme will reinforce the workforce’s perception of the ability of their managers to manage.
In the second you will make quantifiable savings and you will change the way that the workforce feel about what they do.
It is a choice.
Peter created the “Breaking the Mould” process to make his astonishing results available to clients in all industries, public and private, large and small. Once you have understood the simplicity of ‘Breaking the Mould’ – it will transform your life forever! Visit www.breakingthemould.co.uk.
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