Dec 2 – The Suggestion Box, where employee engagement go to die


Is the famous Suggestion Box really a good idea? Or is it the place where employee engagement for continuous improvement goes to die?

I have never experienced a Suggestion Box system that really worked. It has not mattered if the Suggestion Box system have been a digital system or just a plain old physical mail box. The problem has not been in the collection of the suggestions. It has mainly been in what happens after. Typically it will take quite some time from when a suggestion is filed until any real feedback is given to the employee. Suggestions are often stockpiled in an ever-growing backlog and then processed in batches. This leads to very long lead times and a very slow feedback cycle.

I have personally experienced several weeks of wait for a no-brainer improvement that saved the company 10.000 of dollars per year. Then moving from decision to implementation took almost another 6 months. I never filed any more suggestions after that! Even if the suggestion was implemented

It is often quite easy to come up with number of suggestions for improvements. It is not too hard to brainstorm a long list of improvement ideas. But is this scattershot approach to improvements really helping us? What we really need is leaders that regular meet with employees and practice structured problem solving (e.g. A3 or Improvement Kata/Coaching Kata) on a daily basis.

Daily work = Delivering value + Improving way of working

If you insists on having a Suggestion Box after all. Then you need to give fast feedback to the employee who made the suggestion. In my experience it should not take more than a few days and no longer than a week. Actively involve the employee in elaborating on the suggestion so it can be tried. Give the employee recognition for the suggestion and their effort.

I really like this formula for job satisfaction from Michael Ballé and Freddy Ballé in their latest book: Lead With Respect: A Novel of Lean Practice


This is my Lean/Agile Advent Calendar. I will publish a short post on a Lean/Agile topic every day up until Christmas. I will based each days topic on what is behind the door in the LEGO® City Advent Calendar.  So be sure to check back every day!

DISCLAIMER: LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group, which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this post and blog in any way.


3 thoughts on “Dec 2 – The Suggestion Box, where employee engagement go to die

  1. Javi Martínez 2014-12-02 / 18:28

    A couple of weeks ago I participated in a hangout with an engineering director at Google, who explained how they work with innovation.

    Among other things they do have the idea box concept but a wee bit different: anyone can post ideas (developers, managers, assistants…), this is based on the assumptions that great ideas can come from everyone. This implies that not everyone that has an idea has the ability to implement it.

    Secondly, they request their employees to regularly go through a few ideas and vote for the ones they think are good, so there’s a little bit of a process here.

    Thirdly, pretty much everyone is aware of the famous 20% for side projects, but not all developers have great ideas to start with. What do they do then? Well, they can go to the idea box, select an idea that they think is cool and has been heavily voted, and implement it.

    So, the idea box is not a way to “obtain founding” but rather a way to share ideas and get someone interested in implementing it.

    • Håkan Forss 2014-12-03 / 01:28

      Thanks for your comment.

      First off – if something works for you and it based on your company values, keep doing it! If it works for Google, who am I to say they should stop using it?

      But maybe there is another way?

      What if your one of your leader’s top priorities was to coach and challenge you to find new and better ways of working or new product ideas? What if it was part of you leader’s role to help you elaborate and develop your suggestions so it they could be implemented. If you can’t or do not want to implement your suggestion, the leader will help connect you with someone that want/can.
      What if it was your leaders role to give you recognition for the suggestions and for the effort you put in.

  2. Javi Martínez 2014-12-03 / 09:47


    Well, there are many ways of course. Which one is more effective depends very much as you say on the environment.

    I like the way you propose, as it is based on helping each other to reach goals otherwise would be difficult if not impossible, and at the same time I don’t see a necessary conflict between this and sharing the ideas (suggestion box which contents are available to everyone).

    As you point out in your article the missing link in most suggestion boxes is the connection to the realization of these, in many cases it’s weak at best and one way to address it is with the behaviours you describe. Another thing I like is that these behaviours are very much based on kindness.

    Now, another dimension to this is the purpose of suggestion boxes. Are they targeting continuous improvements, or disruptive ideas?. If the answer is continuous improvements then I can only say I agree with you. If we talk about the latter then I’d say a suggestion box is not out of the question, but needs nurturing (e.g. the behaviours you describe).

    PS: I will follow you closely even if you are not around anymore 😛

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