The Suggestion Box Must Die: There are Better Alternatives

It is time to kill that outdated paper shredder and get results with a real employee suggestion program.
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In the business world, some things seem to take an eternity to die. The checkbook, the fax machine, the cubicle desk: for some reason, these sad old relics just keep hanging on, even when they’re well past their prime. 

Another outdated piece of technology that really needs to go? The suggestion box. 

Once upon a time, suggestion boxes may have been a helpful way to gather anonymous feedback. These days, they’ve become a joke, and are just a symbol of hands-off management.

Now, with the availability of continuous improvement systems, there are much better ways to seek valuable input from employees, customers, and partners than the suggestion box.

In this post, we’ll take you on a tour of what’s wrong with this hopelessly outdated technology, and why you should commit to a continuous improvement program instead. 

Why are suggestion boxes still a thing? 

Great question! 

In past decades, physical suggestion boxes were the go-to system for businesses to encourage constructive input on how to improve their products and services. They were also a simple way for businesses to get feedback on the working experience for their employees. 

These suggestion box systems were seen as a good method to get new ideas, and an easy way to boost employee engagement and satisfaction. 

The idea was simple: suggestion boxes offered a safe, anonymous method to communicate any message that people didn’t want to pass on in person. 

The Simpsons Season 26 Episode 12 13 3e60
The suggestion box has become a total joke. Source: Recap Guide

This was a cheap and effective technique to create the impression of an open flow of communication and to encourage people to point out opportunities for improvement in the workplace.

Back in the day, suggestion boxes were helpful for a lot of businesses. Unfortunately, they’ve now become a total joke.

Why you should kill your suggestion box

Here’s the bottom line: suggestion boxes are a dinosaur.

In the age of instant online reviews, anonymous digital feedback, and automated employee suggestion programs, the physical suggestion box simply can’t keep up. 

Think about it: when was the last time you saw, or even heard of, someone contributing a serious idea for workplace improvement via a suggestion box?

Not only are they an embarrassing anachronism, but they’re also inefficient and ineffective for getting the information you need to improve your business over time.

That’s because there’s no accountability for what happens when people make submissions via a suggestion box. There’s also no way to track how useful they are, which leads to the classic gag about suggestion boxes being no better than paper shredders.

Even worse, if someone takes the time to offer helpful feedback via a suggestion box, and then nothing happens as a result, this leaves them feeling like the whole process is pointless. In this case, the suggestion box is a demoralizing sham, pure and simple. 

In short, you need to get rid of any company suggestion boxes you may still have in use. There are far better alternatives out there, and they can do a lot to boost employee satisfaction, engagement, and overall happiness. 

Here’s why digital feedback systems are better

Don’t get us wrong: as much as we hate the classic suggestion box, we still want businesses to be able to capture valuable ideas and information from employees on the front line. 

That’s why we prefer using digital feedback systems.

A digital feedback system is a much more effective way to achieve the same goals of transparency and continuous improvement. Employee suggestion programs allow businesses to get the best ideas from their people without wasting anyone’s time.

How do digital feedback systems work?

Rather than having a physical suggestion box, team members submit ideas via an online portal instead. If they’re happy to have their name alongside the suggestion, they can. Otherwise, they can make suggestions anonymously. 

By gathering employee ideas on an ongoing basis, management then directs them to the right part of the business for prompt attention. This makes sure the suggestions end up with the right person and make it a lot more likely something will happen as a result.

Even better, management can track and communicate the resulting changes to systems, working conditions, and anything else that comes out of the process.

This way, businesses can gather the great ideas their employees have for how to improve their working environments. They can improve the relationships between managers and employees by showing that their concerns are taken seriously.

For this to be effective, however, there has to be a focus on accountability and action. That’s what makes digital systems so much better: by automating the process, it makes it far more likely that someone will take action in response to the suggestion.

Some other alternatives to the suggestion box

Digital feedback systems are great, but they aren’t the only game in town. 

Another good way to get ideas and suggestions from employees is to hold open brainstorming or planning sessions. While these are great for bonding and team-building, they aren’t anonymous. This makes it harder for people to raise sensitive or difficult subjects.

Brainstorming Post Its
Brainstorming sessions can be a great way to gather ideas. Source: Unsplash

Other companies have designed their own unique alternatives to the suggestion box, including South African marketing agency Quirk, which has built a fun and engaging visual tool for improvements to working arrangements. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to go through all this effort. Instead, you can commit to a continuous improvement program to source valuable ideas and put them to work.

Why a continuous improvement program is better

A continuous improvement software enables organizations to collect ideas for improvement from their employees, but with a few key differences:

  • Visual tracking: This software automatically tracks company progress in responding to these ideas, making it easier to visualize progress
  • Regular requests: These systems send regular requests to employees for ideas and suggestions, meaning a higher likelihood of engagement
  • Automatic reminders: This software reminds people when they need to take action, making it less likely things will fall between the cracks

These features offer a lot of great benefits for businesses, especially when compared with the standard company suggestion box. Let’s take a look at these one by one. 

Easy standardization and measurement

With continuous improvement software, companies can capture great ideas, put them into practice, and measure their success over time. Even better, they can communicate the results to those interested, creating a culture of openness and accountability.

This standardized process lets employees know exactly what to expect. It also gives people the certainty that management are listening to their ideas and suggestions.

This way, companies can measure their progress against the suggestions raised by employees and make an action plan. They can even include this as a performance KPI over time.

Greater transparency

Continuous improvement software helps foster a company culture of transparency, openness, and approachability. This is a great way to get employee buy-in. 

A 2012 survey found that while 93% of North American workers make suggestions to their bosses on a regular basis, only 39% of companies have formal processes in place to address these ideas in an open and transparent way.

This suggests there’s a big difference between the number of suggestions employees make, and the rate at which they’re picked up. 

Being transparent about the employee suggestion system is a great way to boost employee engagement, and also contributes to overall workplace satisfaction. 

Higher employee engagement

Nothing makes people more engaged in their work than feeling like their management team cares about their opinions and listens to their ideas, concerns, and suggestions.

By making sure employee suggestions are taken seriously and addressed on an ongoing basis, continuous improvement software helps employees to be more engaged and productive.

It isn’t just helpful for employees, either: continuous improvement software is also a great way to keep management on its toes. 

Clear and direct communication

Continuous improvement software offers a better way to encourage direct and open communication between employees and management. 

It can be challenging to raise sensitive issues in the workplace, particularly when it comes to long-standing problems. Continuous improvement software is a safe release valve for people to raise any tricky issues anonymously and safely. 

Automated systems

Because the entire feedback process is automated, this means less uncertainty for everyone involved. Instead of waiting in the dark to hear what (if anything) has happened to a suggestion, submitters are automatically kept in the loop on what to expect next.

This saves time and makes it more likely submitters’ ideas will be addressed. It also gives people certainty about what to expect from the feedback process.

A more efficient feedback loop

Finally, continuous improvement software enables a more efficient system for sourcing and progressing potential workplace improvements. 

Rather than having to wait for management to respond to a suggestion, this software provides automatic prompts for management to follow up and make changes. 

This means less time spent waiting for something to happen, and more time to spend on the things that actually matter.

Ditch the suggestion box for a continuous improvement program

We’d like to say the classic employee suggestion box has had a good run. In reality, it hasn’t. 

In fact, it’s probably been years since any company around the world experienced any benefit from a suggestion box system at all! 

Fortunately, businesses no longer have to deal with these outdated systems. As technology has evolved, there are now great alternatives out there, including digital feedback portals and continuous improvement software. 

Running an employee suggestion program offers great benefits, including:

  • Easy standardization and measurement
  • Greater transparency
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Clear and direct communication
  • Automated systems
  • A more efficient feedback loop

There’s really no excuse for still having a dinosaur suggestion box hanging around. So, be sure to think about whether these systems might be right for you. 

Trust us, your employees with thank you!