Got a Suggestion? LO12027

Eric Bohlman (
Fri, 17 Jan 1997 05:40:36 -0800 (PST)

Replying to LO11999 --

On Thu, 16 Jan 1997 Andy_Beaulieu@USFG.COM wrote:

> My $0.02 is that managers are held accountable for results, but not
> learning and improvement. If I were king, I'd want to know "who's
> improving, and how much did you improve?" If two groups, A and B, came to
> me with their results, and A outperformed B, but B improved much more than
> A, I'd be putting my money on B for the next performance period. B knows
> how to learn and improve; A, while currently a better performer, may be
> stagnating. Back in my TQM days, I came across a great measure of
> improvement used, I think, by Dutch Shell. They measured the percentage
> gain in performance vs. some benchmark. So B might have closed 60% of a
> big gap, while A might have only closed 30% of a small gap. Although
> organizational learning is a key critical success factor, learning and
> improvement are not measured and rewarded the way results are. We try to
> formalize the process (e.g., TQM), but we keep the old performance system.
> I guess no rocket science there. Other views?

>From what I've read about suggestion schemes, the main reason that they
fail is that suggestions wind up going into a black hole; they get filed,
but nothing more. This is the absolute kiss of death for a suggestion
program, because people normally stop putting in extra effort once they
realize that that extra effort is simply ignored. Note that I said
"ignored," not "goes unrewarded." People *will* put in extra effort, even
if there's no "what's in it for me," *if* they feel that that effort is
making some sort of difference.

Thus *a* key factor (there's that phrase again) in the success of a
suggestion program is that suggestions need to be acknowledged
*immediately*, and need to be followed up *quickly*. A couple other
points, some of which I've picked up from elsewhere and others that are my
own thoughts:

1) Do *not* provide large monetary rewards to employees whose suggestions
are implemented. This causes several problems. The first is that it
means that accepting a suggestion creates a line-item cost for the
company, which is going to bias management's decision on whether or not to
accept a particular suggestion, whether managers are explicitly thinking
about this or not. If you're going to offer rewards of any sort, make
sure that they're cheap enough that if everyone came up with good
suggestions, you could reward all of them. Otherwise you run the risk of
having to decline a suggestion because there's nothing in the budget for
rewarding it. Second, such rewards cause employees to focus on big, "home
run" improvements rather than small, incremental improvements, yet the
combined effect of many little improvements adds up over time. Also,
"little" improvements are "safer" to implement than big ones; there's
less lost if one doesn't work. Third, large rewards encourage employees
to focus on "what's in it for me," which will limit the sort of
suggestions made and impede collaboration.

How then should employees realize the savings or extra profit created by
their suggestions? My suggestion (hehe) would be via profit-sharing or
bonuses available to all employees whose work was affected by the

2) Don't take the responsibility for improvement away from the person who
makes the suggestion. He/she (and his/her co-workers) should be the ones
to implement it; management's role should be to support them, not to turn
the implementation into Yet Another Management Program (YAMP). Managers
particularly need to avoid making needless modifications to suggestions
just to show that they're doing something; a practical suggestion can be
turned into a wasteful program when a succession of managers lift their
legs on it (metaphor courtesy of Philip Slater).

3) If a suggestion can't be used at the present time, immediately
communicate this, along with the reasons why, to the employee making the
suggestion, and encourage him/her to modify it. Treat the modified
suggestion as if it were a completely new proposal; the fact that it had
to be revised should *not* be held against it or its proposer.

4) If a suggestion still can't be used even with modification, put it in
an "idea bank" for the future. It may be that it will become practical
once some other suggestion is implemented, market configuration changes,


Eric Bohlman <>

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