Source | LinkedIn : By Miles Ayling

As corporations seek to maintain a competitive advantage, or improve quality and performance in a tighter economic climate, they may be failing to maximize the potential of the resource that they should value the most – their people.

Employees have the potential to develop better, faster solutions. They are often closer to the problem than senior managers, and by default are closer to the solution. Unfortunately, for many organistions seeking to unlock this potential, rigid corporate structures and dogma get in the way.

“The reason why good ideas get lost is that many large organizations are still oriented toward command and control,” says Evan Rosen, author of The culture of collaboration. “A few people get paid to think, and everybody else gets paid to carry out orders. Command and control is a luxury we can no longer afford.”

So, how do you overcome this? Where do you start? How do you engage and tap into the knowledge, experience, passion and insight latent in your people. Staff can be cynical about OD programmes, but staff suggestion schemes can be a different matter. They are not universally loved, but they can produce high levels of employee participation and deliver significant commercial benefits.

Of course, there is nothing new about staff suggestion schemes. The concept of a tatty wooden box in the rest area, probably more used to sweet wrappers than ingenious ideas, is part of workplace folklore. However, technological advances mean that ‘plug and go’ software solutions are now available and can be bought cheaply off the shelf. They help drag the ‘suggestion box’ into the 21st Century, and can drive real business value, as well as raising employee engagement and participation.

Let’s look at a few examples;

  • At Sainsbury’s, someone on the shop floor worked out that while the popularity of mangoes went up after a “two for £2.50″ deal, the packaging they came in accommodated five mangoes, so there tended to be a lot of wastage because of the odd number. Repackaging the fruit so it came in boxes of six has saved the company around £60,000 – all thanks to a suggestion made to the company’s “Tell Justin” ideas scheme, which has been running since 2004 and has so far generated around 57,000 ideas.
  • Thanks to just one suggestion submitted to its Staff Suggestion Scheme, British Airways is saving £600,000 a year in fuel costs. ‘Descaling the toilet pipes on planes’, thus making them lighter, won’t send consumers flocking to buy B.A. plane tickets, but it will reduce B.A.’s operating costs, thus allowing it to drop its ticket prices. In addition, the idea “not only reduced costs. it also improved the performance of the toilets,”
  • In 1951 Toyota launched their Creative Idea Suggestion System. It was largely a copy of suggestion systems that were in place in U.S. companies at the time, namely the Ford Motor Company. Toyota made some notable innovations to it over the years, but most importantly, they stuck with it. Today Toyota’s 300,000 staff generate in excess of 1 million suggestions a year, 80% of which are implemented.
  • Amazon’s free shipping service was an idea posted by a member of staff on Amazons internal website. Another employee came up with the name “Prime”. The team that worked on the service predicted that Amazon Prime would break even in two years, it broke even within 3 months.
  • The green drink stoppers (or splash sticks) that keep hot coffee from spilling, came about as a result of a customer suggestion made on Starbucks MyStarbucksIdea.com. The lesson here is that good suggestion schemes include employees and customers. Your customers often know better than you or your staff what needs to change or be improved.

There are many examples of suggestion schemes delivering benefits for customers, employees and employers, yet they have fallen out of favour recently, especially in the public sector. All that despite research showing that employees want to have their say on issues or problems that arise in the workplace. Some 54 percent of employees make suggestions to their bosses at least 20 times a year, according to a recent survey by Right Management, an international career and outplacement consultancy firm. But without a formal system to submit ideas and respond, only a small number of those suggestions turn into results.

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