Suggestion Boxes are Disliked & Ineffective Around the World


I love employee ideas and continuous improvement, but I really dislike suggestion boxes. As I've said, they are well intended, but the whole suggestion box process is usually pretty ineffective.

I see more and more articles about the failures of suggestion boxes, including “idea management” software companies who promise “a suggestion box that actually works” or such (see my post on how Kaizen and KaiNexus are different than suggestion boxes and idea management games).

Recently, I read articles from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, even, about how suggestion boxes don't work.

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Gazette writes that “Citizens lose hope in suggestion boxes.

From the article:

Suggestion boxes are put up in organizations for receiving feedbacks and suggestions from customers, in order to improve and provide better services. However, it has been noticed that the authorities pay no heed to them and these so-called suggestion boxes are just hanging in a corner getting stuffed and gathering dust.

I definitely think that there are better methods to engage employees in improvement (such as managers actually talking and collaborating with employees or more transparent methods like the visual idea board). Suggestion boxes are passive, while the Kaizen process is one where employees can actively participate in the implementation of their ideas. Suggestion boxes might be more valid with for customer feedback (although I'd still prefer a customer talk to me directly so we can interact instead of using what they wrote on a card in a box).

If “authorities pay no heed” to suggestion boxes, then the whole thing is a sham and Saudis should be frustrated.

The Saudi article, though, also talks about the use (or misuse) of a suggestion box in a hospital:

Recently, at a private hospital, a physician mistreated and offended one of his patients. The distraught patient, Samia, left his clinic and headed straight to the suggestion box to write and record her complaint, but she was surprised to find a thick layer of dust covering the box and there were no papers or pens to use either.

“The suggestions box was neglected and in a shabby condition and it was quite evident that it had not been opened in months. Clearly, the hospital administration do not bother with the suggestion box. So, what is the purpose of keeping one? Is it only there to give patients the impression that their complaints are being heard?” asked an angry Samia. However, she was insistent on reporting the physician's hostility so she personally visited the hospital director's office to inform him of the incident. Ironically, the director listened to her for a couple of minutes and then advised her to fill out a form and drop it in the suggestions box.

That's too much… yeah, please take your complain to the suggestion box so we can ignore it.

If leaders really wanted to, they could probably make a suggestion box system work. As the Saudi article says:

 To regain the public's trust in suggestion boxes, the administrators and managers must take certain steps to make sure that these boxes are well maintained, checked frequently, the suggestions are read and due course of action is taken.

This would be true for an employee suggestion box, but I still think the Kaizen process and visual idea boards are advantageous.


The News, in Karachi Pakistan, has this article: “Lodge a complaint and forget it.”   The article suggests that putting something in a suggestion box is “a waste of time.”

From the article:

Suggestion and compliant boxes put up in different organisations welcoming feedbacks, suggestions and complaints from customers are hardly looked upon. The authorities pay no heed to them and these so-called suggestion boxes and compliant boxes are just hanging in a corner getting stuffed and gathering dust.

If that's the norm in Pakistan, that's not surprising. It seems like human nature to want to hang a box that makes it SEEM like you care about feedback, even if you don't.

Again, a hospital gets called out for not listening to customers/patients:

A doctor mistreated and offended one of his patients at a private hospital recently. The patient, Maqbool Alam, left his clinic and headed straight to the suggestion box to write and record his complaint, but he was surprised to find a layer of dust covering the box and there were no papers or pens to use either.

“The suggestions box was in a poor condition and it was quite evident that it had not been checked in months. Clearly, the hospital administration does not bother with the box. So, what is its purpose? Is it only there to give patients the impression that their complaints are being heard?” asked Alam.

It seems amazing, but maybe it's not surprising that it's the same story all around the world.

To make an improvement process work, we can't just automate the broken suggestion box model. Buying software doesn't mean that the leadership mindset has changed – in Dallas, in Riyadh, or in Karachi. It's not the technology (box, software, or visual idea board) that truly matters, it's the mindset.

That's why our upcoming book Healthcare Kaizen  is more about the culture and leadership models required to make Kaizen work than it is about the mechanics of the process.

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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 think you’ve hit the nail on the head here Mark. Suggestion boxes aren’t bad per se due to their concept of soliciting ideas from people. They’re bad because of what happens after people submit their ideas.

    I remember writing last year about some research into brainstorming. It found that it is best if people come up with ideas on their own, but those ideas are best developed socially with other people.

    Suggestion boxes do the former ok, but fail miserably on the latter. It’s like they forget that getting submissions is not a goal in itself. The implementation of new ideas is the goal, or rather the improvement of the business is the goal.

    • Thanks for your comments today, Adi.

      Yes, I try to distinguish that the problem is with the “suggestion box system,” not the box itself. I’ve found that something transparent (such as an analog idea board or an electronic system like KaiNexus) creates more of that social interaction. Yes, it’s all about the implementation of ideas and improvement of the business, not just generating and collecting them.

      I still haven’t found anybody who says, “What are you talking about? Our suggestion box system works great!”

  2. Is it just me, or are those two stories actually rewrites of the same story? They are not just similar, they are the same. The sentences are exactly the same and in the same order. Sure, names are different, and there are words added here or there, but I think they are just reprints of the same base article (like news agencies do with AP releases). Am I way off?

    It doesn’t, however, change the fact that suggestion “boxes” are typically ineffective. We have suggestion boards like you referenced, but they can befall the same ills of suggestion boxes. It all comes down to how receptive the culture/management is to feedback. If they don’t want it, or more importantly aren’t rewarded in any way for acting upon it, the suggestions will fall on deaf ears no matter how they are presented. After all, they’ve “got real work to do”, which is code for they’ve got other things they are held accountable for and your suggestion isn’t one of them.

    • The articles aren’t exactly the same. There are some sentences that are the same. Maybe one was plagiarized from the other, at least partially.

      But you’re right that it comes down to how management is receptive to ideas.

  3. Started working on the “Idea Board” last week. Before I even completed it I had three people come to me with Ideas. All no cost using materials we already had on hand. One persons idea will save us over $10,000 a year, Another could not only save money but will improve quality, preventing possible errors. The third was a simple idea that was needed for a long time to make a job easier. All three will be the first items on my Kaizen Hall of Fame board I am working on. Hope to have it up and going in the next week.
    Hoping to use the same system at the hospital I am working with. Already have them using there Iphones to record ideas (Thanks to Paul Akers of Fastcap for that idea)


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