Why Traditional Suggestion Boxes Don’t Work


I saw this in a workplace, posted by a union. But, you know, as a Lean practitioner, I couldn't agree with this cartoon more.

For one, in the Lean approach, real kaizen (continuous improvement) happens without suggestion boxes. Boxes cause delays in getting suggestions discussed and acted on. Boxes interfere with communication, since they tend to accumulate anonymous complaints. And finally, employee suggestions certainly shouldn't lead to job losses. That's not keeping with the “respect for people” pillar of the Toyota Production System.

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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. The Suggestion Box, in itself, isn’t all that bad. In fact, Toyota uses them.

    Here’s the big difference: The number of “Problem Solvers” versus “Problem Finders” are significantly different at Toyota than at other companies that have suggestion boxes. In fact, a metric that is tracked and reported on is (# of suggestions implemented divided # of suggestions submitted per month).

    Plus, for high-impact suggestions that, Toyota provides financial or monetary rewards.

  2. Pete – you make some good points. It’s not that the box itself is bad, but in how it’s used. I’ve seen suggestion boxes that were locked and management had literally lost the key. The problem was the lack of attention to employee concerns, the box itself wasn’t the root cause of the problem.

    I’ve just seen suggestions managed so much more effectively without the box — having employees bring suggestions to you verbally is much better for discussion and implementation. It leads to faster resolution and you can work together in the context of “how do I make this into something we can implement?” instead of a management process that approves or rejects suggestions without dialog with the employee.


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