It just needs a digital makeover and a multilevel process within it. You might call me crazy, but this thing-of-the-past, this red-painted cheap metal construction, this outdated box of despair which some friendly and positive-minded person named “The Suggestion Box”, is actually not outdated at all. In fact, with the current pace of development in mind, it has never been more relevant.
We have all seen them. They usually hang dreadfully from a random wall in a just as random hall, underlining the fact that nobody really cares about them. There are not as many as before, but they are out there. Either alive or as a ghost, roaming the culture it inhabits. They were probably born out of great intentions. “Let’s listen to our colleagues! Let’s hear what our customers have to say!”.
The Purpose is Correct, the Handling is Wrong
A fair purpose is surrounding the Suggestion Box. Some might even call it a democratic and inclusive purpose. It intends to signal trust and openness, asks for feedback and for you to take responsibility. Besides that, it is supposed to create a channel for direct communication. Could it source great ideas and improvement suggestions? It could.
But it doesn’t. Anyone who has actually used company suggestion boxes is likely to have experienced the numb feeling arising when the post-it has been slipped into the box. A former colleague of mine mentioned she might as well just have used the office shredder, saving everyone the hassle. The suggestion box contains a plethora of great intentions, so why is it not working?
Because it hangs on a wall. And in more than one sense, it is simply just hanging there. It is supposed to be a channel for communication, but it does not provide feedback. One-way communication is not satisfying, and it kills the initiative. The box intends to signal trust, inclusion, and transparency, but does the exact opposite; It does not trust contributors to openly share their thoughts or be part of the initial evaluation process, it excludes people from the front-end innovation process, and it is definitely not transparent.
It is a Process just as any other Business Critical Activity (that is if you Think this is Business Critical)
The lack of acknowledgment towards contributors is also critical. I have personally shipped several ideas towards companies which service I have been happily using. No feedback or acknowledgments for taking the time to contribute, signals that they didn’t really care, which in return results in numbness. Numbness is expensive for your business.
A box on the wall and an email calling for you to fill it up with suggestions are not going to make you even more awesome. If used correctly, calling for suggestions is a great method of addressing current and urgent business challenges and strategic direction. But this is not done passively. If you want to move on from being ready to change, to actually change, do an active war cry for suggestions.
Another issue with the suggestion box, and several other ways of handling ideas and suggestions is the lack of transparency in the evaluation phase. Are the people evaluating the work actually capable of seeing the potential of the raw idea, or would it be helpful to let the idea be challenged by other teams and colleagues before being scrapped?
Even the physical location or this passive ad-hoc way of collecting ideas and suggestions is impaired by time and space. Different teams, departments, expertizes and interdisciplinary skill-sets have different work habits, locations, time frames, personalities etc. which either impairs or supports their contribution towards the development of the company. This is not optimal. Why do we accept this? Everyone around us can help make us better. Let´s leverage opportunities for bringing ideas to the table.
“We need a common enemy to unite us” – Condoleezza Rice
Rallying our troops around our current and upcoming challenges is essential. Our troops possess the knowledge needed for solving them and providing us with the ideas that will make us greater. A passive way of collecting ideas is not going to cut it. The pace of development has never been as fast as today, and since it is constantly accelerating, we have to stay on our toes to remain relevant.
We need to actively listen, ask questions, evaluate input and engage our crowds if we want to fully benefit from the collective knowledge that surrounds us. When you are sad and feeling blue, some might tell you that you should involve the people around you and get their help to get back up on your feet. Because the people around you care about you, they can also help you. It is the same with your company!
Disappointed with the outcome of my suggestion box experiences, I actually voiced these concerns to my colleagues. They said I should bring my idea to the brainstorm session. You have probably been there too. With post-its. Killing darlings. Killing other people’s darlings. And wasted resources without results because the few of us could not see the potential of the various ideas.
The Purpose is to Reach a Larger Volume of Peoples Ideas
Why we didn’t show our ideas, our suggestions, and our thoughts to a much larger audience is not just a shame, it is a structural problem. Because that process would have added value. It would have made decisions much clearer. And easier. Potentials would have been thoroughly reviewed and argumentation would have been wide and diverse. The ideation and evaluation would have been based on a much larger set of skills and knowledge. The overall outcome would have been better.
In many places, the front-end struggle is real. So how can we fix this? The need for making correct decisions, and making them faster, is imminent. And even if the solution requires work, it is still simple. Take your suggestion box and your brainstorming sessions out of the traditional frames. Look at the original purposes of the suggestion box; ideation, inclusion, communication, knowledge-sharing, customer feedback and so forth. All these aspects remain highly relevant today.
BUZZWORD ALARM: Digitize it!
Your solution is to make this box digital and create the pillars you need for successful front-end innovation. By going digital, you immediately establish and automate structure in a process notorious for lacking it. You limit the resources spent during a process notorious for consuming them.
By using modern digital tools, you can thrive on your team’s ability of already understanding standardized user engagement and feedback formats. By using an open platform, and not a closed box, you will create transparency around topics that matter for your organization. Knowledge-sharing is valuable, but only possible when transparency is present. Ensure you make the most of your collective knowledge by bringing ideas forward in a place where all your stakeholders can interact with them.
The fact that you are asking for help and including your teams on specific challenges signals trust and inclusion. Both factors create a better working environment, which in return provides better results. With a digital solution, establishing seamless feedback loops between managers, decision-makers, and contributors is simple and swift. The benefits of providing acknowledgments or showing care are valuable on several levels, especially when employee retention and talent acquisition is important.
So, the suggestion box is still going strong. In spirit, at least. The purpose of the suggestion box lives on. It simply needs an overhaul and a modification to fit modern businesses.
Idea management platforms are a digital version of a suggestion box. If you want to know what are the benefits of a digitalized box, check out Why you should consider an Idea Management Platform on our blog.