Continuous improvement consists of initiatives and innovations to achieve best practices, but there are many myths surrounding operations improvement in organisations.
The third myth in our series of Myths vs Reality is: “Suggestion boxes are effective for obtaining ideas for improvement”
The reality is, suggestion boxes might be useful if you use it for comments about a new product name, or proposals for a new menu in the canteen, but practical experience indicates that it is not effective at all for generating ideas for operations improvement.
I usually make a point of looking in boxes wherever they are used, and find almost 100% of the time that they are empty and dusty. Where there are the odd one or two pieces of paper, it is often about a complaint, or a suggestion about something somebody else must do. My experience, which includes speaking to people about their perceptions, indicates that there are a few reasons for such boxes not working effectively, namely:
1. After implementation of suggestion boxes, feedback is slow, or non-existent, and people simply give up, as they see the box as a black hole into which things disappear.
2. Ideas are sometimes taken by the person opening the box, and are used as his/her idea.
3. It can create suspicion; imagine if you are a supervisor, and you see a person scribbling on a piece of paper, and putting it into a box – you may think that he/she is complaining about you.
4. The most important reason is that no learning takes place; an idea is put into a box, and team members do not see it, so they cannot build upon it, or get stimulated to also think about something.
I believe that the most effective approach is to start with a simple, visual, system. In the case of a first-line team, the first-line manager should be the “walking suggestion box”; people should tell him/her about their suggestions, for example, during team meetings, and he/she should then record it on a visual register, for all to see. It is then the first-line manager’s (and his/her manager’s) responsibility to give feedback on it, and to support its implementation. With such an approach, it is important that first-line managers be coached on how to stimulate thinking about improvements in the team. The worst way in which to get a suggestion is probably to ask the question “Do you have any suggestions?”!
To read more about ODI’s Operations Management and Improvement Coaching, click here.
Author: Johan Benadie, Director at ODI, and a 20 Keys practitioner for 22 years