9 Reasons why the Suggestion Box is Dead.

Suggestion Box

Technology is providing new options for companies committed to engaging their employees more deeply, solving problems and fostering innovative operation.

Trae Tessmann|
January 27, 2016

Most companies have the best of intentions to listen to ideas and feedback from their employees.

But while management makes an effort to make themselves available for chats or meetings, everyone is busy and can’t provide 100% of their attention 100% of the time.

Enter the Suggestion Box.

The little contraption (who’s physical form is probably foreign to many in 2016) offers a location for anyone to provide their thoughts on the good and bad of their employment, responsibilities, and interactions at work.

Whether a physical box or section of a website, the process is usually straight-forward – you share your thoughts and management will check it out on a later date.

The passive communication channel is built on convenience for both parties, but rarely lives up to its potential. This isn’t due to a lack of interest. Employees from every department have actionable insights and want their voice heard. Problems stem from unintentional communication breakdowns over what a “suggestion” really is and what it means for the company for employees to participate in the process.

Here are just a few reasons why your employees are keeping their ideas to themselves.

No awareness.

To start with, employees most likely know the suggestion box exists, but that’s the problem – it just “exists”. It isn’t moving. It isn’t asking for attention. It isn’t thanking you for your consideration. It sits there and watches everyone go about their daily responsibilities, awaiting your ideas. Without a full-blown marketing campaign for the poor thing, very few people will think about it on a daily basis, and thus will be less likely to think of ideas or feedback they can provide. Whether in the break-room on a webpage, it’s become less of a tool and more of a requisite for organizations to say they listen to their employees.

No motivation.

From a lack of confidence in the quality of their idea, the process used to bring it to life, or a general dissatisfaction with the organization (over 50% of US employees are looking for new work on a given day), there’s a level of disconnect that cause many people to consciously avoid participation. Who is reading the ideas? How often are they being read? What if the idea isn’t any good? What if it angers the manager? What if someone else takes credit for it? These questions are magnified in a culture or market where job security is questionable, and promote hesitation and uncertainty in submitting “risky” ideas.

No context.

Even with motivated employees, one of the biggest culprits in a lack of feedback or ideas is the direction of the conversation, or lack thereof. Many employees aren’t active in the company’s strategic operations, and aren’t aware of the struggles and problems that management is looking to solve. To make matters worse, even if management is asking specific questions, almost 70% of non-managers can’t define what they’re organization stands for in the marketplace. While more a problem with culture than anything else, this lack of transparency leaves with an utter lack of “spark” or inspiration, and far less likely to be engaged with anything outside of their responsibilities.

No recognition.

Dropping that idea in the box or hitting the “submit” button might get your pulse running for a second, but then what? Passiveness can be great for convenience, but a lack of immediate pay-off or reward can crush employee initiative to participate. 78% of employees say they’d work harder if their efforts were recognized, and the ideas and feedback they come up with are no exception. Regardless of dedication for the organization, a little public “thanks” for their contributions and ideas can go a long way.

No accountability.

Employees can stay perceptive, submit their ideas and feedback, and receive some recognition for their efforts, but what about management? Even with a highly engaged workforce, getting ideas is only half the battle. The best ideas are still reliant on a willingness to change and innovate, and an efficient system for analysis and implementation. Without the proper pieces in place for action, efforts to innovate will be all for not, and the process could actually backfire, killing morale after employees come to the conclusion that management doesn’t really care.

Suggestion box aside, is your Company actually ready to Innovate?

No collaboration.

Teamwork makes the dream work! But traditional suggestion boxes are a one-way conversation with an employee and the reader, with no opportunities for employees to work together across departments, inspire each other, and amplify ideas. While management is tasked with the responsibility to take action, 90% of employees believe they should seek other opinions before making that final decision. Still, once an idea is dropped into that box or submitted, they have little to no say into what ideas and improvements should be implemented, regardless of their intimate knowledge on the choices.

No fun.

Sharing ideas should be an exciting process, but as we stated above, there’s little to celebrate about dropping a piece of paper into a box. To go along with collaboration, competition is another huge motivator for participation in any initiative, but is a blatant lacking feature of the traditional ideation process. Even simple gamification processes have been proven to improve engagement and promote productive behaviors. With 55% of Americans saying they’d be interested in working for a company that employs a gamification process, there’s no reason the process of ideation shouldn’t involve some sort of gamification to encourage use, competition, and excitement.

No feedback.

When even good ideas are never heard from again, there is little chance a sub-par idea will receive any feedback for improvement in the future. With no feedback, the chance for further participation from that employee is likely low. But that lack of feedback doesn’t just bode poorly for the idea, but for the overall development of the employee as well. Employees make suggestions based on their experiences and unique insights, and the ones that feel they can approach management for feedback, whether on their ideas or personal performance, are the most engaged in their work according to Gallup.

No accessibility.

Inspiration and many great ideas are sprung at home our outside of work’s walls, and limiting submissions to the physical workplace, where employees are often given one core responsibility to focus on, greatly limits quality and willingness to submit when. That suggestion box isn’t following you home, and what are the chances you’ll remember that idea the next morning? Or have the motivation to write it down for a company that might not care? With 85% of American adults on the internet, that physical box shouldn’t be an option when a company could be getting ideas from anywhere at any time.

Managers and executives have and always will want to hear from their employees. They want to listen to their insights, examine their ideas, and work to move the company forward, together. Technology has made it easier to communicate, but still ideas are getting lost by the receiver or forgotten by both parties.

Still, the open innovation and continuous improvement movements are thriving, and technology is providing new options for companies committed to engaging their employees more deeply, solving problems and fostering a more innovative strategy. Working to solve these issues takes time, patience, and buy-in from the workforce, so focus on finding that right combination transparency, communication, and structure to get people talking and building.

About Trae Tessmann

Co-founder of Ideawake

5 thoughts on “9 Reasons why the Suggestion Box is Dead.

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  • By Jody Aud - Reply

    You missed one big one — not sure how you can have transparent leadership with an “open door” policy and still have a place where your employees can submit ideas anonymously!

    • By Trae Tessman - Reply

      Agree Jody, and unfortunately even with that open-door policy, too many employees look to avoid the “risk” that comes from sharing a potentially unpopular idea – hence their desire for anonymity. Fears of rejection can be paralyzing, especially if few ideas are reaching the hands of management to begin with.

      Employees need to own the changes they’re looking to make, and that comes down to trust in management and a culture that encourages them to share. If employees are confident, more ideas get submitted, and the process becomes more comfortable for everyone.

      That process starts with management providing context into what they’re looking for, staying transparent with their goals, providing concrete feedback, and actually acting when quality ideas that come through. Employees are far more likely to put their name behind an idea if they believe it stands a chance to be implemented!

  • By Jim Smith - Reply

    I’m supposing that your use of the term “suggestion box” is a euphemism for any of the hundreds of software offerings flooding the market to engage employees. Irrespective of the 9, the key missing item to ensure success is the CEOP asking the question. Also, a third party reporting to the CEO who will collect the data and carry the challenges to each manager or executive. Blockers get escalated to the CEO staff meeting for internal discussion. The moment a suggestion is approved, usually within days of it arriving, it is executed immediately and announced with a thank you to the employees from the CEO. This goes on for ten weeks and there really isn’t anything more to it. The questions from the CEO covers a world of issues and the employees are free to take anything on. When they see things happening so fast the input becomes greater. At the end of the ten weeks the income statement has measurably improved and the employees are given credit for everything, the killed sacred cows, the bully sent home, the silly policies canceled and all the other dumb stuff they could justify killing or indeed starting. I realize that complexity is the life blood of the EE survey business, that may be why it generates so little results.
    The CEO is the top of the company and should be the top of EE, there are too many below who wish nothing would change.

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