The Problem With Suggestion Schemes…

I decided we required more “family engagement” at home.  We could also have done with some innovation, and my daughters certainly needed a productivity boost so I set up a suggestion scheme.  If you would like to try this I have detailed the implementation activity below:

DIY suggestion scheme:

  • Designed suggestion form (name, idea, cost benefit analysis)
  • Fitted a suggestion box by the front door (high traffic area)
  • Set up weekly management review of ideas (me facilitator, wife chair)

Unfortunately the initial roll out didn’t take off as quickly as I had hoped.  Suggestions were not forthcoming.  So I instigated some improvements to drum up more interest:

  • Added an incentive, extra pocket-money (money motivates; my children if nobody else’s)
  • Agreed incentive with Finance (Mrs L. again)
  • Instigated benefits tracking mechanism (to make sure ideas delivered)
  • Publicised scheme via in-home posters and breakfast briefings (it’s all about comms)

This improved the number of suggestions dramatically but the quality was limited.  9-year-old daughter proposed un-workable suggestions about increased “screen time” and reduced chores.  4-year-old daughter defaced multiple suggestions with green and red crayon.  More improvements to the system required:

  • Set up e-form using a spread sheet template (download via Microsoft)
  • Moved the scheme on-line to ease management (and improve security)
  • Included “I made a suggestion” badge for all participants (extra motivation)
  • Set up quick response evaluation with all suggesters (5 day SLA)

After 6 months of lack lustre performance I decided to leave the system open but reduced my management commitment, I now review and evaluate suggestions “periodically”.

Dad management system widely regarded as a flop by female inhabitants of family home.

You wouldn’t do it at home so why do it at work?

As Steven Covey would say “begin with the end in mind”

In this case the end is to get good, relevant ideas out of your employees heads and into action.  If you can create a little employee engagement en route, all the better.

This is not an exercise in management systems

This is not an exercise in information technology

This is an exercise in communication

Instead of putting up a suggestion box, a better idea would be to sit down over a cup of tea, talk about the big issues and then listen to what your employees have to say.

If you would like to add a little more structure to the discussion try reading this.

(And if you need help making tea try this)

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Suggestion Box

Read another opinion

Image by jrthoms


  1. Hi James,
    Spot on! Suggestion schemes have such a bad history and record but are also not the place to start. As you point out, communication and culture is where we should start to generate momentum in the exchange of ideas. Only when this has been established should we think about introducing other systems to capture and support ideas.


  2. Hello James

    My experience is that I make suggestions when:

    I care deeply about something and wish to ‘improve’ the situation; and
    I am convinced that the person I am making the suggestion to will actually listen and grapple with my suggestion.

    So if we want people to ‘get into the game to improve the game’ we need to be mindful of what it takes to signal to people that they count, their opinions count and that their voices will be given a fair hearing. It helps if one is known for being open-minded an welcoming suggestions. And then acting on those that have merit on the basis of the merit.


  3. The suggestion box is useless because it is not a team activity. One person has to find the problem and find the solution. Problem solving is a rare skill. My first employer had 450 employees. Three employees made 90% of the accepted suggestions.

    Sitting down for tea is the answer. However, this must be done continuously during working hours. To do this, all employees must identify issues that affect their work.

    “You invent because something bothers you.” Joseph Rabinow 231 US patents. An issue is an irritation. Place an irritation box next to the suggestion box. Encourage employees to record daily irritations in the irritation box. Post these irritations above the suggestion box and encourage employees to make suggestions/comments about these irritations. Post these suggestions/comments above the suggestion board.

    This procedure will start the communication needed to make improvements. Conscientious people can find each other.

  4. James Lawther says:

    Thanks for your comment Kevin, I like the idea of an irritation box, though I wonder if you wouldn’t need an irritation bucket, or maybe skip


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