Home > The Lean Post> 5 Ways to Help Every Team Member Contribute Ideas for Improving Work
The Lean Post
Sharing how the world is making things better through lean.

5 Ways to Help Every Team Member Contribute Ideas for Improving Work

by Daniel Fleming
April 9, 2015

5 Ways to Help Every Team Member Contribute Ideas for Improving Work

by Daniel Fleming
April 9, 2015 | Comments (9)

Engaging staff in problem identification and suggestions for improvement is essential for any organization, yet most organizations don’t have a system that effectively encourages staff involvement – "system" perhaps being the most important idea of all. 

If you’re in a leadership position, here are some tips I’ve used and found success with over the years for creating an effective suggestion system:

  1. Make it Public: If you have a locked box for staff suggestions, please take it down. That's a symbol of a failed system from the past and they represent much that is wrong with American suggestion systems. Why locked? To hide participation, to hide ideas, to encourage folks to submit ideas in secrecy, to not share ideas… Make your idea system public so participatation (or lack thereof) is visible to all. And so the ideas themselves are visible to all.
  2. Keep it Local: Eliminate the Blue Ribbon Panel and red tape approval process. Develop a system for local approval. Train managers on the purpose of the program – staff involvement and recognition and on the focus on ideas – quality, cost, delivery, patient satisfaction, staff satisfaction, productivity, etc.
  3. Make it Simple: Develop a simple brochure to describe the program along with a self-evaluating form that includes the problem, the idea and if the employee can implement it on their own. A simple bulletin board should be developed to indicate idea status including columns for New, To Do, In Process, and Complete Ideas.
  4. Focus on Singles not Home Runs: Encourage team members to submit small ideas that can be implemented quickly by the employee versus large changes that require external resources such as engineering, IT, and facilities. While some of these types are inevitable, they need to be balanced with many more that can be completed within the unit.
  5. 5. Measure the Process, not the Results: Remember the purpose of the program is primarily staff involvement and recognition. Measure process effectiveness not individual ideas. The wisdom of this decision will soon become apparent. Measure Participation Percent and Level of Participation. Most importantly, measure Time to Evaluate and Time to Implement.

Consider the following goals for each measure:

  • 100% participation
  • 12 ideas per employee per year
  • 48 hours to evaluate
  • 5 days to implement

Try it out for a month or two and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear what comes of the experiment.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Search Posts:
Was this post... Click all that apply
68 people say YES
73 people say YES
33 people say YES
31 people say YES
Related Posts
9 Comments | Post a Comment
Jim McKiernan April 09, 2015

Great post! I particularly like the short-term focus on single versus home runs and what the individual can do rather than wait for external inputs. I like to challenge teams to meet for no more than 30 minutes on a Monday morning and identify an area where improvements can already be inplace by Friday

Reply »

Tony April 09, 2015

Excellent post; each tenet is important not only to you but to the company and or process as a whole.  I love the idea of removing the suggestion box and learning how to collaborate with peers when resolving a problem; excellent read.  I may try some of this myself

Reply »

Ray Gillenwater April 09, 2015

Nice one. Keeping it local only applies if it's a manual process IMO - otherwise it becomes to unruly and intangible.

However, the the addition of software to the manual process can make this real at a local and global level within a company. We've built software for exaclty this purpose: Idea management and employee engagement. 

Dan, just added you on LinkedIn. Would be good to talk shop. Check out: getspeakup.com

Reply »

Eric Reinhard April 13, 2015

Many thanks Daniel for your ideas! I have 3 questions about the ideas management in an office environment (SCM Dpt. for finished goods in HQ, 10 people) :

1. Do you consider the 12 ideas per employee per year as an individual objective? I.e. should it be a KPI to be measured for every employee, or just a kind of "takt" for the manager ?

2. To get recognition from the upper management, how do you communicate and reward?

3. I fully agree to "focus on Singles"; nevertheless, I would say that 80% of the ideas in my SCM Dpt. are "cross-functional" => how to manage them? Forget them?

Regards from France! 

Reply »

Theresa Coleman-Kaiser April 13, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Your suggestions for measuring the process are great!  Thanks for some great ideas.

Reply »

Steve April 13, 2015

Dan, Thank you for the post. Very interesting. Would it be possible to share examples of the actual ideas that were implemented?  Perhaps a sample of 10 or so such ideas?



Reply »

John April 13, 2015

Last year, our company began work on reinvigorating our continuous improvement approach using similar methods to the points mentioned in the article.  We had a lot of disengaged/disgruntled team members because of various initiatives that had been poorly sustained/executed in the past.

The first step was to eliminate suggestion boxes, and instead have peoples' ideas posted on bulletin boards so that everyone could see the ideas.  However - the only ideas that were posted were the ones that needed other departments' (engineering, safety, etc) assistance.  Ideas that didn't require outside departments, we simply encouraged them to go ahead and try it out - as long as it didn't create a safety hazard, or quality defect, it was worth the experiment to see if it made an improvement

I'm happy to say that in the 16 months since we started reinvigorating the program that we've seen a 600% increase in the number of ideas that have been implemented (as measured on a weekly basis).  We're still not where we'd like to be, but we're moving in the right direction!

Reply »

Rick Bohan April 13, 2015

Good stuff but I'm going to quibble with the last one. I'd say, "Measure process AND results".  If we had full participation of an idea that was fully and quickly implemented but didn't add value for customers or employees, have we done a good thing?  

A reasonable response might be, "Not all ideas will add the value we want but that doesn't mean we shouldn't encourage employees to generate and develop ideas."  True, but part of continual improvement is assessing whether what we're doing works or not.  

My own view is that employees are eager to measure the results of their ideas.

Reply »

Joe Dunn July 23, 2015

Thanks!  I will use this concise action guide to drive bottom up change.

Reply »

Search Posts:
Focus on Process, Set Free Great Minds
7 Things Coaches Need to Get Over
A Lean Leap of Faith
Ask Art: Will Lean Work for a Distributor?
Please include links as plain text URLs only. Do not copy and paste directly from a web page or other document. Doing so may pick up additional HTML that will not function here.
URLs will be converted to functioning links when your comment is displayed on the site.
Here's an example:
See this article for more details: https://www.lean.org/whatslean