If you want to improve your bottom line, don’t overlook the simplest ideas

In a previous life, I chaired an innovation committee. One of our roles was to filter ideas put forward by employees. We ranked ideas according to a number of criteria, with a high score meaning that the idea would move forward in the system and get “worked on”.

At the other end of the scale were the “small and insignificant” ideas. On being given a “small” idea to review we would, rather disparagingly, relegate them to the “suggestion box” and rarely give them a second thought.

Which is a shame, because suggestion box ideas are often real gems.

I’m sure you are familiar with the suggestion box concept. It’s a box put in a handy place (often in the kitchen area) where employees can drop notes suggesting things that could be improved. Periodically, the contents of the box are reviewed – and hopefully acted on – by someone in management.

The purpose of the suggestion box is that it’s an avenue to get ideas from “shop floor” employees. These ideas are often regarded by the management team as minor because they relate to small matters of a day-to-day nature.

But it’s these ideas, and the problems they solve, that could just be the difference between efficient operations and profits lost through wasted time or silly mistakes.

I remember author Marcus Buckingham telling a story about a hotel that had high crystal breakage costs. The blame had been squarely laid at the feet of the kitchen workers for years until a new employee arrived.

The new guy popped a note in the suggestion box saying that the dishwashers seemed to be shaking a lot. It turned out that the dishwashers hadn’t been properly fixed to the floor, and the shaking was breaking the glasses. It was an expensive problem cheaply fixed.

Suggestion box ideas can be great eye-openers. Sometimes they highlight processes that are vestiges from the past but seem to have no practical purpose today.

Other times, they relate to small day-to-day customer issues. Issues that are not deemed significant enough by the employee to be raised through the usual channels, but which often present a good opportunity when a senior-enough person actually gets to hear about it.

So my suggestion this week is to reinstate the suggestion box.

You need to do it properly though. Commit to reviewing the suggestions at least monthly, publicise the suggestions (so that others can be inspired to enter ideas) and always say how you have dealt with the ideas.

And never, ever, be disparaging!


Julia Bickerstaff’s expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses: Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of How to Bake a Business and was previously a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has a degree in economics from The London School of Economics (London University).


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