Do you have a suggestion box at your workplace? Sounds like a good idea on the surface doesn’t it? This provides you and your co-workers with a safe space to confidentially make suggestions which hopefully are intended to improve working conditions, productivity etc. Maybe you’re personally happy to have one of these in your workplace; you may have even been the instigator and feel pretty proud of it. If it works, good for you and your organization.
There are inherent problems with the suggestion box however, and before I present an alternative, I’d like to point this out. First of all, on the input side, the suggestions and ideas put into the box are only known by the person who writes the suggestion or the few they share their idea with. On the output side, the idea or suggestion is only read and considered by the holder of the suggestion box key; typically someone in Management. So are your suggestions and ideas for improvement thoughtfully considered, rejected out-of-hand, mulled over a period of time etc.
The other issue I have with the suggestion box is that none of your co-workers have the opportunity to read and think about your suggestion themselves. It could be that your idea gains momentum when others in the workplace agree. It could also be the case that your idea sparks a thought that builds on your original idea, or in fact causes someone to have a great idea of their own that they’d like to share. The old, “two heads are better than one” saying in action could mean an idea gets developed; morphs into someone new and of course gains support from others.
Now those in upper management that like to exercise constraint and control; who like to be the drivers of change themselves, or don’t like anyone going about even thinking about changing anything aren’t going to like the idea I’ll propose. If they think the suggestion box is a bad idea, well…
Imagine if you will a shared space in your workplace where many of the employees congregate or walk past on a frequent basis. Now what if you inserted into this space a cork or whiteboard where workers could spontaneously post and share ideas and suggestions. Maybe there are post-it notes to pin to the board or it takes some other form, but it’s real, it’s hands-on and it’s accessible. This differs significantly from a website to accomplish the same things. The problem with electronic idea boards is people have to consciously remember to log in and share ideas and secondly the audience is typically smaller as not many will log in throughout a day just to see what’s happening.
So you could post an idea and others in the workplace could do so as well. Could be that some of those ideas get subsequent notes or comments attached to them like, “Great idea!”, “Let’s do this!” or “What if we added…?” The board being owned by everyone in the organization from the front line worker to the CEO, could and I believe should, be a safe space to express ideas for everyone. If it’s just a token board for employees but not used by managers and supervisors, you’re cutting out a vital group of people who will pay token attention to it.
What I like about this in a workplace is that it allows everyone to have a voice and gets people thinking about what could be changed for the better. You know your job better than those who don’t do it on a daily basis. So what would make your job easier, better, more productive? Thinking beyond your job, what would make the daily experience of coming to work be improved for everyone? Imagine you walked by and saw comments like, “bring your dog to work day”, comfortable chairs or a couch in the staff room”, “let’s paint the reception area with murals” or “let’s bring our kids to work for a day.”
A safe space means no killing of ideas or condemnation for those who post ideas we don’t like or agree with. Maybe we have to be reminded that ideas which seem impractical, costly, bizarre or previously tried still have merit for the people posting them. Rather than dismissing an idea as tried before and failed or too impractical, maybe we should ask ourselves, what would that look like? What goodwill would come out of implementing that idea? Would morale shoot up across the department, unit or team if that idea was tried? Would an increase in morale translate into a happier work force and happier workers mean the work would be done with better attitudes and real enthusiasm? Would that enthusiasm be noticed by those we serve and would that translate into greater profits, less accidents on the job, better attendance, a better reputation as a place people want to work? Who knows?
I met yesterday with people from two municipalities where this idea was floated. Someone suggested a sewing circle as that’s her passion. Okay that’s not mine, but I could see some staff sewing at lunch time in a designated area; people at all levels in the company sewing, communicating and improving relationships. That would cost nothing to implement and the returns could be significant when staff return to their work after doing what they find rewarding and pleasurable.
What do you think? Could this work in your workplace?