Are Suggestion Boxes Really Going Away? What Say Amazon?

Last week, I found and read an article, “Whatever happened to the company suggestion box?,” that makes some really great points about the problems with the ole’ box as a way to facilitate continuous improvement. This is a favorite topic of mine (see previous posts).

One of my guest bloggers, Christina Kach (her posts here), complained on Twitter that her organization hasn’t gotten the message about boxes:

Why are boxes usually a bad thing, even if well intended?

From the article I mentioned earlier:

Today, you will hardly see one in corporate organizations. And if you do, it has generally turned into a mere office fixture coated with dust – something that sticks out like a sore thumb.

Egotistic and insecure managers feel threatened by it even if a flood of ideas from employees will help improve work processes and conditions, products, and customer service, and save costs for their companies (or save them from costly blunders).

Fact is: the suggestion box, which represents everything employees want to tell management, is dead.

Points from the article (which I agree with) about making improvement work:

  • People won’t give ideas if they don’t think management is really interested (which is why Kaizen requires much more personal interaction from leaders, not just hanging a box)
  • People won’t participate if the response to their ideas is slow or non existent (the suggestion box process tends to be slow and batchy, which monthly or quarterly reviews)
  • Management must show enthusiasm and commitment to make Kaizen successful, discussing improvement and soliciting ideas pretty well constantly (as Joe and I write about in our new book  Healthcare Kaizen)
  • People must be thanked for their ideas, even if they can’t be implemented
  • Success stories must be shared widely, with lots of recognition (but I’d add not necessarily financial incentives)

I guess all of those things  could happen with a box… but it seems more likely in a Kaizen program (including those facilitated with KaiNexus) than with boxes.

A recent FORTUNE article highlighted some improvement efforts at Amazon (“How Amazon learned to love veterans”). From the article:

Kaizen  suggestion boxes, referring to the Japanese term for continual improvement, dot the walls of Amazon’s facilities. Amazon, you see, values the input of its lowest-level employees, whereas Army brass isn’t known for soliciting opinions from grunts. Amazon has less hierarchy than the military too.

I’ve never seen a real Kaizen culture, including Toyota, Autoliv, my co-author’s health system (Franciscan St. Francis), that used suggestion boxes. I’m surprised Amazon would call their boxes “kaizen.” Are they really embracing that philosophy or just latching onto a buzzword?


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

2 Comments on "Are Suggestion Boxes Really Going Away? What Say Amazon?"

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  1. Pete Abilla
    Twitter:
    says:

    At Amazon, it’s called Kaizen Suggestion Box. And,at Toyota – at least in supply parts distribution – they were clear boxes and were everywhere. It’s how Toyota can implement over 10000 new ideas annually. In fact, Toyota rewards a car for really innovative ideas.
    Pete Abilla recently posted..Airline Customer Satisfaction: An OxymoronMy Profile

    • Mark Graban
      Twitter:
      says:

      Thanks for sharing that, Pete. I guess a clear suggestion box is more transparent than a locked wooden box :-)

      I’m sure if a box is consistently looked into daily to give a fast response and collaboration in a kaizen-y way, then maybe that part of Toyota could make a box successful in practice.

      I just don’t see why ideas need to go into a box. I know from visiting Autoliv in Utah (where they claimed 50 ideas per employee per year), they didn’t use boxes. I’m going to ask about this when I get to visit my new hometown Toyota plant in San Antonio.

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