Continuous Improvement and Employee Engagement Through Employee Suggestion Programs

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During my first visit to one factory, I quickly noticed on a wall in the lobby a collection of cards with employee suggestions – normally a good sign of a facility’s commitment to continuous improvement and employee engagement. A closer look revealed the opposite – improvement ideas that were months and even quarters old without any response or follow up. While creating that program was a good idea, the lack of follow through likely discourages employees from contributing further suggestions.

Unfortunately, that company is not alone. This all-too-common practice is highlighted in the article “Companies Often Solicit Employee Feedback but Seldom Act on It” (in the May-June 2024 issue of Harvard Business Review) which discusses a 2023 Gartner white paper “Employee Engagement: Close the Action Gap to Drive Business Outcomes” by Jen Priem. Employees want to help. In fact, “40% of survey respondents said they would rather have difficult processes fixed than receive more career development opportunities”. That interest is not always matched by a company’s efforts. Aside from the missed opportunities in quality, cost, efficiency, and safety improvements, this also negatively impacts employee engagement: “only 34% said they thought their companies would act on feedback they provide” so why would they take the time and effort to participate?

Setting up an effective employee suggestion program is more than placing a box for suggestions or creating an internal software tool. To be successful, the company needs to dedicate management effort and commit to a timely, closed-loop initiative.

A cross-functional management level team should be established to review the qualifying ideas. This does not need to be top management but should be leaders high enough such that they can approve and implement many ideas themselves and have ready access to higher level managers to discuss larger improvement suggestions.  A coordinator, perhaps someone from the quality department or in an administrative role, can be designated to facilitate the program – helping create the methods for employee suggestions, collecting the inputs, and maybe conducting a first level sort of ideas (the entire review team does not need to spend time on the suggestion to paint the bathroom a different color!)

This team should meet frequently (perhaps monthly) to evaluate and prioritize the employee suggestions that were submitted since the last meeting. Plans to implement or investigate the most valuable ideas should be developed. Someone on the team should be designated as a sponsor of each such idea to obtain updates and ensure progress even if the responsibility for investigation or execution is handed over to a functional area leader.

Often, a team of employees from the impacted area(s) will be created – this helps make use of their more detailed knowledge and improves buy-in to the solution.

Whenever possible, the employee who suggested the improvement should be included on this implementation team.

There are different ways to celebrate the improvement ideas that were selected for implementation – monetary and non-monetary awards, inclusion in the employee’s performance review, public recognition, plant competitions, etc. The choice will depend on the company’s and location’s culture.

Communication is key to a successful employee suggestion program. Leadership should consistently share its enthusiasm for the improvement idea program and what type of ideas are desired (not that bathroom color suggestion!). Leaders can also show their support by attending events associated with this program.

Regardless of whether a valid improvement suggestion was approved for further action or not, it is important that a member of the team (for example, the facilitator) always provides prompt feedback to the employee on the decision and why that was the determination. This closed loop aspect is essential if the firm wants to continue receiving, and benefit from, employee ideas.

Are there other sources for great ideas beyond your employees? Stay tuned….

 

Steven Lustig is founder and CEO of Lustig Global Consulting and an experienced Supply Chain Executive.  He is a recognized thought leader in supply chain and risk mitigation, and serves on the Boards of Directors for Loh Medical and Atlanta Technology Angels.

Updated: Jun 11, 2024

About the author
Steven Lustig of Lustig Global Consulting is a member of XPX Atlanta

Lustig Global Consulting that helps companies create risk management programs, establish robust manufacturing and supply chain strategies, and enable sustainability initiatives.