The suggestion box sends some not so subtle messages. One is that ideas are not part of everyone’s job – they are optional. Employees are not expected to come up with ideas for improvement. But just in case they do, there is the box on the wall.
In other words, the people on the front lines are not expected to think. Some managers behave as if their employees should “check their brains” at the door, and they are to do only what they are told to do. (A French colleague of ours said many of the managers he deals with don’t even think their employees have anything to check.)
The irony is that everyone has useful ideas. To demonstrate this point, let’s look at the experience of an organization called Opportunity Enterprises (OE). OE is a not-for-profit organization that services the needs of mentally and physically challenges people. They are also a very progressive corporation that uses open book management and an excellent employee idea program to provide a highly empowering work environment. One of the truly unique things OE has done is to drive their improvement team effort right down into their client base. Client teams, consisting of people who have difficulty even writing, develop improvement ideas. The result has been solutions to problems that OE never even knew they had.
One of my favorites involved changes in the internal doors. Because many of OE’s clients are in wheel chairs, they sometimes banged into each other when opening doors. The solution by a client team — put windows in each door low enough for people in wheel chairs to see through the door and be seen by people on the other side. That problem and solution came from a perspective – sitting in a wheel chair – that management didn’t even share.
If OE’s clients can solve problems, every employee can.
It is time we not only think outside of the box, but shoot the box and bury it as well. Everyone should be expected to come up with improvement ideas as part of their job.