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Tap into Employees to Get Good Ideas

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Today’s article discusses gathering and implementing suggestions from your employees. This can be a valuable tool, not only for the obvious benefit of having many heads at your disposal, but also because it lends to employees feeling valuable and appreciated. Read on and enjoy! Only 41 percent of surveyed employees believe the typical company listens to employees’ ideas.

The average American worker makes only one or two suggested per year; the average Japanese worker, however, submits hundreds of suggestions to his or her employer annually.

One of the best ways to involve employees in an organization and to energize them in the process is soliciting their ideas and opinions. Real motivation comes from within. People have to be given the freedom to voice their opinions and make suggestions — whether these ideas success of fail. "How a company deals with mistakes suggests how well it will ring out the best ideas and talents of its people, and how effectively it will respond to change," says Bill Gates, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft Corporation. "When employees know that mistakes won’t lead to retribution, it creates an atmosphere in which people are willing to come up with ideas and suggest changes. This is important to a company’s long-term success." Various systems and programs — known by a wide variety of names, including total quality management, continuous improvement, or simply the good old suggestion box — seek employees’ opinions and encourage them to make suggestions. It is important for employees to know that their suggestions are taken seriously and that they can make a big difference. By carefully reviewing employee suggestions, and quickly implementing those that have merit, management sends a message to employees that they are valued. When implementing employee suggestion programs, it is important to keep in mind a few key points:

Encourage employees to make suggestions that improve either the workplace or service to your customers. Encourage any idea, no matter how small. Sometimes you have to get through simple suggestions before employees begin offering more significant ones. Publicly acknowledge the individuals who make suggestions and the improvements that result. Numerous companies have found innovative ways to make employee suggestions programs work. For example, one Amoco plant in Texas City, TX, uses a suggestion program that has saved Amoco $18.8 million in two years. The plant awards winning suggesters gift certificates in front of their fellow workers during lunch breaks, publicizing them on the refinery’s internal TV system and in local newspapers and entering them in contests for Employee of the Month or Year. Winners garner gifts like pen-and-pencil sets and week-long vacations, which pre presented by the plant manager at plant-wide dinners.

Everyone Counts is a program at Black & Decker, headquartered in Townson, MD, that uses teams to brainstorm and develop ideas about training, communication, administration and rewards. People from different departments were grouped into thirty-nine teams, and two evaluation committees for managerial personnel were named to receive ideas and judge their merit. The evaluation teams also noted leadership potential in some employees when they made their presentations. A total of 200 ideas were submitted and 59 approved. The first twelve ideas to be implemented dealt mostly with improved operations that resulted in cost savings. One $700,000 idea concerned the substitution of new material in one of the company’s product lines. The program also improved upward lines of communication in the company. At Eastman Kodak in Rochester, NY, an employee whose suggestion is implemented received 15 percent of the out-of-pocket savings achieved in the first two years of use. If a suggestion results in a new product, the award is equal to 3 percent of the sales achieved in the first year. Kodak has given awards — averaging $3 million annually — to more than 30,000 people. Employees at Levi Strauss, based in San Francisco, CA, nominate one another for the firm’s Koshland Award for showing initiative, taking risks, generating cost-saving measures, coming up with creative ideas for promoting products at the retail level — anything that puts Kodak at a competitive advantage. Winners receive a plaque at an annual awards ceremony and a cash prize. At Lincoln Electric in Cleveland, OH, employees are very motivated to make cost-savings suggestions to management — and management is very motivated to energize its workforce by adopting those suggestions. Lincoln workers submit 200 to 300 suggestions every month. "We probably have more innovative ideas coming from our people than any other company I know of," says former CEO George Willis. "I think it’s because we reward people for their contributionsOver the years people have built up a basic trust that management is going to be fair in dividing the profit of the company among those who have produced it."

The employee suggestion program at Preston Trucking, in Preston, MD, brought in almost 8,000 suggestions in a recent year, and the vast majority of them were implemented. All employee suggestions — including ideas that ranged from repainting the lines in the parking lot, to placing a rubber mat in front of the ice machine to prevent employee slips and falls, to purchasing rechargeable batteries for pagers —are printed in the company newsletter. Preston’s management responds to and appreciates its employees’ suggestions, and employees are energized because they know that their ideas are heard and valued. At the 10,000-person Honda of America factory in Marysville, OH, employees receive $100 for each accepted suggestion, but they also get anywhere from 1 to 12 VIP points for each one. It they make a presentation to a quality circle meeting, they get an extra 50 points. When they accumulate 300 points, they get a plaque, 1,000 points net $8000. Higher-level prizes are a Honda Civic for 2,500 points, and an Accord, two weeks of vacation, and four week’s pay for 5,000 points. The company received more than 10,000 suggestions in a recent year, resulting in savings of $5 million. An important element in the success of any suggestion program is ensuring that employees have access to the information they need to make informed judgments. At Westlake, Ohio building materials manufacturer Manco, charts containing financial data including sales, revenue growth, and productivity are posted on the cafeteria walls. The company’s salespeople conduct weekly meetings to review their territories in front of all employees and seek everyone’s ideas and suggestions for improving client sales and service. Evaluating ideas quickly is also critical to the success of an employee suggestions program. To help encourage evaluators of employee suggestions to review suggestions as quickly as possible, insurer USAA has instituted the "Slice of the PIE" program. PIE is an acronym for USAA’s "Partners in Excellence" suggestion program. For every suggestion that is approved or disapproved, evaluators receive a paper "slice of the PIE" that can be taped to their unit’s poster facsimile of a pie pan. When evaluators fill their posters with eight slices of pie, they can redeem them for a brunch for their work unit.

Employee suggestions don’t just help the company

They also help the employees who make the suggestions by improving working conditions, removing organizational hurdles that get in the way of workers doing excellent work, and giving employees a measure of control over their jobs. "When I started visiting the plants and meeting with employees, what was reassuring was the tremendous, positive energy in our conversations, " says Donald Petersen, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company. "One man said he’d been with Ford for 25 years and hated every minute of it — until he was asked for his opinion. He said that question transformed his job."

Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is president of Nelson Motivation Inc and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (now in its 52nd printing), 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, The Management Bible among others, and teaches organizational behavior at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. For more information or to register for Bob’s FREE Tip of the Week visit www.nelson-motivation.com.

Tap into Employees to Get Good Ideas
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About Bob Nelson
Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is president of Nelson Motivation Inc and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (now in its 52nd printing), 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, The Management Bible among others, and teaches organizational behavior at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. For more information or to register for Bob's FREE Tip of the Week visit www.nelson-motivation.com. WebProNews Writer
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