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Advice from the Gemba: Getting More Suggestions without Incentivizing Employees

by Gavin Martin & Kelly Moore
November 2, 2017

Advice from the Gemba: Getting More Suggestions without Incentivizing Employees

by Gavin Martin & Kelly Moore
November 2, 2017 | Comments (4)

Improving the work is difficult, if not impossible, without suggestions from those who actually do the work. But in many companies, getting the workers to submit suggestions is a constant struggle. What could be the root cause(s) of this problem? Two lean practitioners weigh in with their thoughts.

Gavin Martin (Executive Director - Strategic Accounts, Ventera)

I would recommend going to talk to somebody who’s been working at your company for a while, and asking him or her, “Why aren’t people making suggestions?”

There are two reasons I often hear for a lack of suggestions. You might hear that it’s because things have never changed, which is to say that the status quo became the norm. And so while your people hear the words coming out of management that they’re “open to suggestions” and “have an open-door policy,” the people don’t actually see any change happening. They haven’t seen any results and they have no reason to believe things are going to change. So why are they going to take the time to think, articulate, walk over to the box and submit a suggestion when they don’t think it’s going to mean anything?

It could also be that your people don’t trust that the person who could make the change has any basis of reference as to what they (the people) need to happen. Has the change agent been to the gemba? Does he or she know what your people do? Does he or she even care, or is he or she just working of a checklist? 

If your people don’t see or feel that the change agent is genuinely interested in them, their situation, and their needs, you’ll find it very hard to get suggestions.

Kelly Moore (Operational Excellence Lead, Syngenta)

We hear so much about employee suggestions that I find many groups want to rush out and hang that box on the wall (the ‘box’ may also be a computerized form or sticky notes from employees on the manager’s desk). In our haste to engage, we probably haven’t adequately designed a process, in granular detail, that addresses the necessary steps of an idea system:

 

(1) soliciting ideas (all ideas vs some ideas, who signs off?, how to submit),

(2) approving ideas (signoffs, timelines, expenses) and rejecting ideas (feedback, signoffs),

(3) implementing ideas (resources (time and people), visibility benefits, recognition).

Designing the process BEFORE asking for any ideas is important to a successful suggestion program.

Once a process is designed, I believe feedback, visibility and recognition (not incentivizing) are the keys to endless employee suggestions. The successful idea systems I have introduced have interested leaders that recognize that they have been entrusted with someone’s idea and those leaders honor the process time in responding to the idea. For ideas that will not be approved, the leader typically has a face-to-face conversation with the employee explaining why. Prompt feedback on ideas demonstrates respect for the employee’s contribution.

We are all busy at work and progress gets lost as we do our day jobs. Employees keep submitting ideas when they see ideas being implemented. For the sites I support, the areas that do the best job keeping ideas visible (some use stickies on a wall) have the highest sustainable numbers of new ideas.

Recognizing progress and team contribution is important.  I’m not describing incentivizing – that’s a slippery slope once you start. I have some areas that call out implemented ideas and team names as part of a daily huddle, to the applause of those present. It’s fun to watch the teams hamming up their bows and curtsies. Another area selects a monthly winner of the implemented idea that had the most impact to the area (the entire shift of the originating idea wins). The shift receives a snack but it’s the recognition from the other shifts that lights them up. 

Employee suggestion boxes can work without incentivizing; however, they cannot be left unattended. With a well-designed process that provides feedback, visibility and a little bit of recognition you’ll never run out of ideas. 

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  collaboration,  safety
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Ajay November 04, 2017

Hi

Good information!

Two questions-

1)Do you have any examples of visuals used checking current status of IM process?

2) Any example of structure developed to ensure leadership is engaged in IM process.LSW?

 

Please share!



Reply »

Kelly Moore November 04, 2017

If the process is paper, and paper works well for a small, co-located group, the entire process can be visible. Ideas (Post-It Notes, etc) are posted into a SUBMITTED section, the paper moves to APPROVED or NOT APPROVED (rejected), there may be an IN PROGRESS section, and finally COMPLETED.  A good process will have rules on how this process happens, including expected timelines.  LSW is a good way of keeping the process moving. I've seen success when the review of ideas is tied to a daily accountable meeting (perhaps idea review is only one day of the week - it depends upon process rules). 

If the process is a computerized submittal, it is harder to manage visually. I have an experiment in progress now where the submittal and approval process are tracked within the computer system but each shift selects a few approved ideas and writes those on Post It notes and keeps at daily accountability board. These ideas remain visible and fresh ideas are added in kanban fashion. Completed ideas are kept on a separate board to show success of ideas being completed. 



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Rob November 06, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

We have been developing an idea program for many years so can pass along what has worked for us. Connect the idea program directly to the strategic goals of the company. HK can align very well to this goal. This works by breaking down long term goal's into process level challenges & Targets. Toyota Kata is excellent for providing this connection. At the same time as providing the future state the employee's need to be in partnership with the front line management in the establishment of expected work methods. This is the foundation or source of the idea generation. All processes know matter how well conceived will have issues and the future target's help lower the accepted range of variation. The employee's can now "Stop the Line" and highlight the obstacles they face. The obstacles are the source of idea's, which the employee's participate through PDCA in developing.



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Danny November 14, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Based on personal experience as idea box facilator 
leadership commitment to keep pace in the process as well as providing feedback to the innovators are key drivers to success.



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