Beware the suggestion box

Beware the suggestion box

Suggestion boxes, you know the ones, they might be an actual physical box, or they might take the form of an online ‘post an idea’ forum. In either case, both can have a detrimental effect on your innovation program if they are implemented without serious thought. 

What typically happens and what you may have experienced in the past is: (1) a suggestion box is implemented, (2) employees are told about the suggestion box and encouraged to suggest ideas, (3) employees suggest ideas, (4) someone (if you’re lucky) is tasked with reviewing the ideas and that’s when things start to unravel. Bad ideas are ignored, good ideas might be passed on to the relevant department to consider, employees are left wondering what happened to their ideas and usually begin to feel disgruntled, unloved, and then not surprisingly disengage with the process. 

The suggestion box, initially thought as a mechanism to empower employees and capture powerful bottom-up innovation, becomes yet another failed initiative that breeds disenchantment. The main reason for this failure is because companies see a suggestion box as a driver (rather than an enabler) of innovation. Unfortunately, introducing a suggestion box does not equate to innovation.

Here are a couple of tips to consider when implementing a suggestion box:

1. The suggestion box should be part of a broader innovation process

The suggestion box should be the tip of the iceberg with a rigorous innovation process underpinning it. Innovation is more than just coming up with ideas – it is implementation too. Make sure a process is in place to progress employee ideas.

2. Post-innovation challenges. A common outcome of the ill-implemented suggestion box are ideas such as three-ply toilet paper or half-day Fridays. To avoid this, set innovation challenges relating to important organisational problems and opportunities to provide direction for innovative efforts.

3. Set clear expectations of what will happen to ideas. Let people know what will happen to idea submissions such as when they will hear back and the next steps in the process. Communicating clear milestones will contribute to a sense of momentum and build engagement in the process. But follow through on your promises – actions speak louder than words.

4. Provide feedback to employees. Every employee’s idea MUST receive timely feedback. Put in place a timeframe such as 24 hours to respond to every idea submission. And nothing beats a verbal acknowledgement. In some cases, employees have really sucked up the courage to submit their thoughts so considerate feedback is essential to maintain engagement in the process.

Immersing herself in the latest innovation research keeps Dr Shelley Logan on her toes at Inventium. Possessing a strong background in Organisational Psychology, she is passionate about applying principles of organisational psychology to help organisations unlock growth through innovation. Shelley can be found at [email protected].


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