Are Suggestion Boxes Really Going Away? What Say Amazon?
Last week, I found and read an article, “Whatever happened to the company suggestion box?,” that makes some really great points about the problems with the ole' box as a way to facilitate continuous improvement. This is a favorite topic of mine (see previous posts).
One of my guest bloggers, Christina Kach (see her posts here), complained on Twitter that her organization hasn't gotten the message about boxes:
My department is installing suggestion boxes *cringe* Bad #lean bad!!
— Christina Kach (@ChristinaKach) June 21, 2012
Why are boxes usually a bad thing, even if well intended?
From the article I mentioned earlier:
Today, you will hardly see one in corporate organizations. And if you do, it has generally turned into a mere office fixture coated with dust – something that sticks out like a sore thumb.
Egotistic and insecure managers feel threatened by it even if a flood of ideas from employees will help improve work processes and conditions, products, and customer service, and save costs for their companies (or save them from costly blunders).
Fact is: the suggestion box, which represents everything employees want to tell management, is dead.
Points from the article (which I agree with) about making improvement work:
- People won't give ideas if they don't think management is really interested (which is why Kaizen requires much more personal interaction from leaders, not just hanging a box)
- People won't participate if the response to their ideas is slow or non existent (the suggestion box process tends to be slow and batchy, which monthly or quarterly reviews)
- Management must show enthusiasm and commitment to make Kaizen successful, discussing improvement and soliciting ideas pretty well constantly (as Joe and I write about in our new book Healthcare Kaizen)
- People must be thanked for their ideas, even if they can't be implemented
- Success stories must be shared widely, with lots of recognition (but I'd add not necessarily financial incentives)
I guess all of those things could happen with a box… but it seems more likely in a Kaizen program (including those facilitated with KaiNexus) than with boxes.
A recent FORTUNE article highlighted some improvement efforts at Amazon (“How Amazon learned to love veterans”). From the article:
Kaizen suggestion boxes, referring to the Japanese term for continual improvement, dot the walls of Amazon's facilities. Amazon, you see, values the input of its lowest-level employees, whereas Army brass isn't known for soliciting opinions from grunts. Amazon has less hierarchy than the military too.
I've never seen a real Kaizen culture, including Toyota, Autoliv, my co-author's health system (Franciscan St. Francis), that used suggestion boxes. I'm surprised Amazon would call their boxes “kaizen.” Are they really embracing that philosophy or just latching onto a buzzword?
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At Amazon, it’s called Kaizen Suggestion Box. And,at Toyota – at least in supply parts distribution – they were clear boxes and were everywhere. It’s how Toyota can implement over 10000 new ideas annually. In fact, Toyota rewards a car for really innovative ideas.
Thanks for sharing that, Pete. I guess a clear suggestion box is more transparent than a locked wooden box :-)
I’m sure if a box is consistently looked into daily to give a fast response and collaboration in a kaizen-y way, then maybe that part of Toyota could make a box successful in practice.
I just don’t see why ideas need to go into a box. I know from visiting Autoliv in Utah (where they claimed 50 ideas per employee per year), they didn’t use boxes. I’m going to ask about this when I get to visit my new hometown Toyota plant in San Antonio.