A Different “Lock Box”? Why Are Suggestion Boxes Locked So Often?


No, this isn't about Al Gore and his infamous Social Security “lock box.”

This is about suggestion boxes that we sometimes see hanging on the wall in workplaces. With my current lean project, we co-opted the existing department suggestion box as a “lean box,” and we're making sure to check it every day.

When I was in a different department today, something struck me, something that never bothered me before… the shiny brass lock on the suggestion box. Our box also has a lock and we have to remember the key every morning. It's kind of a pain to get that danged key.

Why is the suggestion box locked anyway? I started to question that. Is the country facing a rash of suggestion box thefts? Are suggestions to be kept away from employees to be read only by managers? What do you think?

I'm going to suggest that we take the lock off the danged box. Suggestion boxes are really a poor substitute for face-to-face discussion and on-the-spot problem solving. But, we have to take baby steps. Folks are afraid to make suggestions sometimes… sort of like giving them “permission to change,” we have to give them permission to bring ideas forward without fear of being criticized or being dismissed.

This is a topic Norman Bodek talks about in our Podcasts.

Here is an earlier post of mine thinking back to the horrible suggestion system back at GM.

Over time, I've collected more photos, including international suggestion boxes in different languages that are also locked:

And sometimes the boxes are clear, so you can at least see if there's anything in there:

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I’ve thought about creating an internal blog, for idea sharing that would act as a sort of “suggestion box”. Not only would everyone be able to read the suggestions, office staff may be more inclined to read them if it was easily accessed on the computer (and it wouldn’t feel like you were rummaging through other people’s private suggestions either). Getting it out there might also encourage/inspire others to contribute, but of course a blog would allow for collaboration and discussion that a box never could. And management might have more motivation to implement the ideas generated there, since staff would be paying closer attention to what happened with their ideas.

  2. Wow, Jennifer that sounds like a great idea. The ideas I pull from lean blogs and other blogs are great.

    I cringe though at the political issues that might arise with that type of forum. Blogging and message boards are a different animal than your typical employee/manager scheme. Ideas can pickup momentum without the proper approval.

  3. I think the locks on suggestion boxes date back to the days when most “suggestions” were gripes about management and/or fellow workers and thus were treated as confidential. In other words, old school management. In a lean culture I think the best systems are visual and managed at the lowest possible level. The system also has to give great consideration not about how ideas are implemented, but rather how ideas that don’t make the grade are “rejected.” Treating idea givers with the respect of an explanation about why their idea can’t be implemented (cost, resources, etc)will go a long way in ensuring that employees share future ideas but also give them a better understanding of what makes for a good idea.

  4. I just found a locked suggestion box in our workplace. I asked a manager and she said they hadn’t had the key in over two years. More of a black hole than a “lock box”.

  5. Thanks for your post.

    Checking every day for any content is NVA, just have a transparent acrylic box, so that the suggestions when dropped are visible.

    What do you feel?

    • Sure, it might be better to have a box that’s clear and transparent.

      But, a healthy continuous improvement culture will definitely have ideas every single day within a team. Instead of a box, I’d rather use something more transparent such as a bulletin or, given the right circumstances, web-based software.

      A clear box might be solving the wrong problem. Or a clear box might not help if the leaders aren’t really engaging people in improvement. Without that leadership involvement, a bulletin board or software might not help either.


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