Have your employees come up with any good suggestions lately? At the Triple 'A' Animal Hotel & Care Centre near Washington, Tyne and Wear, 28 members of staff dream up more than 1,200 ideas a year. Not all of these are implemented but that's not the point, says finance manager Michael Brown. 'We believe all ideas are good ideas. It doesn't matter whether or not we can act on them all.' But, for every Triple 'A', there are many more companies where the staff suggestion box simply gathers dust. Moribund suggestion schemes, says Alex Bryson, a researcher in employee involvement at the Policy Studies Institute, result from poor planning and inadequate employer commitment. 'Staff need to feel that their ideas will be viewed constructively and taken seriously.
When introduced in isolation or into a company with no culture of employee involvement, suggestion schemes have no impact,' he claims. Angela Baron, policy advisor at the Institute of Personnel and Development agrees. 'If employees don't believe their organisation is really committed to a suggestion scheme, then it just won't work.'
What works, argues Dave Jackson, managing director of organisational change consultants Novius, are schemes that are integral to the organisation's approach to continuous improvement. 'Schemes need a very high level of commitment from the top but often work best when they are run by the employees themselves,' he insists. The Sir Gestion scheme run by employees at credit card services company Credit Card Sentinel is a good example. There, the scheme is administered by employee volunteers who decide which ideas to implement. All suggestions are rewarded with gifts or money prizes. Cost-saving ideas are rewarded with a proportion of the money saved.
Car rental firm Avis attributes the success of its PIPS (Practical Ideas Profitable Solutions) scheme to ensuring employees remain involved with the progress of their ideas. Where possible, the people who come up with the ideas are encouraged to implement them. Director of training Ian Jarvis stresses: 'It is built into our Spirit of Avis programme, which includes other forms of employee involvement and recognition.'
At the Halifax, it is now easy to make suggestions: employees write their ideas on a piece of paper. It then goes to HQ for review, and they receive a reply within one month and may be rewarded with gifts or cash prizes of up to £25 or lunch with CEO Mike Blackburn.
Need a good suggestion? Try incentives, employee involvement, senior level commitment, and regular revamping of your scheme.