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.
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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