Think Outside The Safety Suggestion Box
Overnight I had someone email me asking for a suitable sign to put on their safety suggestion box to encourage employees to contribute to their new initiative. My immediate response, sent without much thought and whilst still half asleep was “with respect, having a suggestion box is not a sign of a good culture”. they quickly responded, and I deserved this, with “OK tell that to my plant manager and HR department”.
It was kind of co-incidence also because only yesterday I had added a TOPIC SUGGESTION page to this blog – which I could justify as this is not a workplace!
Upon reflection, I still think the same way and they cannot possibly replace having meaningful conversations with employees to find out what they are thinking. In a positive culture surely these ideas just flow naturally? I guess in some really toxic cultures, then something like this may be the first positive step forward?
The law now makes it mandatory to consult with employees regarding health and safety but I am not sure that this is what they had in mind?
I have seen these things come and go. They may seem like a good idea at the time but quickly become obsolete for many reasons, mostly because nothing is done with the ideas, the only employees who contribute are the disgruntled ones, nobody contributes or they are just too hard to manage.
I have seen more positive manifestations in “Suggestion Boards” where managers are compelled to write a response. But even though we may spend less time with our family than work colleagues, would anyone install a suggestion system in their home or would that be considered a serious breakdown in our relationships and communication?
Manager’s immediate reaction to many of the ideas raised is that they will cost too much, don’t align with business needs or are just plain stupid. Most suggestion schemes are anonymous so there is no opportunity to properly follow up or flesh out what may actually be a very worthwhile suggestion, just poorly presented. I even heard someone once say that they could install a hidden camera to work out who made the suggestion!.
In his book “Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach”, Michael Aamodt suggests that although an open door policy is the best method for upward communication, this is not always possible for practical reasons including that Managers may be overwhelmed or Employees may not feel comfortable or may feel threatened talking with Management. They may feel that Management will not take kindly to hearing about problems or bad news. He says that when there is “serial communication” (where messages are passed from person to person) then bad news is filtered and seldom reaches Management. Aamodt writes that a suggestion box or complaints box is one way to overcome this issue (other ways include focus groups, surveys and exit interviews) but cautions that suggestion boxes and complaints boxes are, in theory, the same thing but in practice two very different things and the process must be labelled correctly.
This was an interesting quote from James Ellis’s recent essay on Weick and Mindfulness:
Weick and Sutcliffe argue that relationships and continuous conversation are the best way to manage risks that systems haven’t anticipated and that mindless routines pose a threat to the sensitivity required for reliable operations. They illustrate this point by reference to the findings of Eisenhardt (1989) who learnt and observed that the better performing organisations in the microcomputer industry conduct frequent operations meetings and facilitate ‘nearly continuous face-to-face interaction’ (1989, p. 543-576).
A search of the internet reveals that these safety suggestion boxes are still a very popular and there are some very passionate opponents and equally passionate proponents. There is a staggering amount of information out there regarding safety suggestion boxes and this really surprised me. I could build this into a massive list but here is just a selection of some of the pros and cons I’ve found. I know I am obviously biased but I am struggling to accept any of the Pros:
- They give employees opportunities to participate in decision making at work. As a result, they feel empowered and assume more ownership of their work.
- Employees can generate ideas for your organization that can lead to great cost-savings.
- Effective employee suggestion programs can increase motivation, encourage teamwork among employees, and promote loyalty within the workplace.
- If someone shares a good suggestion that meets the purpose of the program and aligns with a business goal – you can reward them for it and encourage others.
- A carefully designed and launched employee suggestion program can positively impact your employee motivation and enthusiasm. It must have clarity and commitment and open communication.
- Your workers are on the front lines – they see it all – and are the best source for safety concerns in the workplace. Instituting a safety suggestion box allows your workers to address the safety concerns – both major and minor – that they encounter every day and which might go unnoticed by management.
- Employees tend to only generate ideas related to their immediate sphere of influence, and mostly related to process improvement or personal or selfish needs
- Initially there may be too many ideas which cannot be processed, management become overwhelmed
- Lack of transparency – employees cannot see what is happening with their idea
- They are a way for a small portion of the workforce to vent
- They are processed by the same person who may have certain biases or lack of expertise in the area and not recognise the value of the idea
- They encourage limited, anonymous ideation in isolation and without any feedback, as opposed to open and collaborative ideation that leads to breakthrough innovation and adds real value.
- When problems are outlined in a suggestion they don’t include recommendation for resolution.
- The suggestion box is often a physical “black box” where ideas are locked up rather than an iterative process
As always I would love to get your thoughts and ideas on this – leave them in the comments section below and everybody gets to see them and yes, you can be anonymous!
Oh, and please excuse my photo – I just couldn’t help myself