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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 is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. 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 book is the anthology 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. He is currently writing his next book, tentatively titled Measures of Success.

  1. Pete Abilla says

    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. Mark Graban says

    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.

  3. Anonymous says

    I think the biggest problem with the Suggestion Box is related to the assumpiont that is just an -internal marketing trick-
    So it’s up to the management to show that’s something REALLY used to improve.

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