Thursday, August 18, 2011

Suggestion Box? No, More Like Suggestion Ninjas

Not many companies still use the traditional, in-the-lunchroom suggestion box. However, some companies have turned this process into a virtual one. Ignoring good advice, they've automated a bad process. The suggestion box process fails on many counts:

  • When it starts, and if it starts well, it's easy to overwhelm the system. Feedback on the suggestions is slow in coming and that discourages people. Also, the few that get implemented with the first ones reviewed makes the system look capricious as people start to realize that other suggestions are better, have more savings or, in some cases, even countermand the implemented suggestion with a different perspective on the issue.
  • It creates an immediate bottleneck of the gatekeeper. Now, the gatekeeper may not be the one who has to review all the suggestions for worthiness, but the gatekeeper has to assign the suggestions to someone else for review. We saw this in a Corrective and Preventive Action Request system. We ended up modifying the system so that some suggestions that weren't strictly CA/PA requests could flow through a different "suggestion" system.
  • Quickly, the critically constrained resource is identified. As the gatekeeper starts parceling out the suggestions, a greater proportion of them start going to one person (e.g. a department head or a specific engineer) who has to review, approve and perhaps design/document the changes in the processes that enjoy the greater number of improvement opportunities. This bogs down the system. Metrics look bad and get revised and all the other problems in the first bullet point start to appear.
A better system is not to have a centralized function related to suggestions or corrective actions. It's better to teach and authorize people to solve their own problems. Make them "ninjas" who quickly identify and dispatch the enemy (i.e. a problem, challenge or improvement opportunity). They don't have to be a "sole assassin" but must collaborate in teams. (The collaboration is important as a sounding board, fact checking method, and to prevent a lot of "change-back" implementations because of differing opinions.) They're given authority to implement the approved change up to certain dollar value (e.g. $5,000). If they can approve the change themselves, as soon as they document the opportunity, they're ready to move ahead. If they need management or engineering approval, they're ready to execute the idea as soon as the documented change is signed off. They can research the new materials, tools, software, equipment, education and methods they need. Once the new 'things' are identified, they order them and install them.

Motivation, according to Alfred Kohn, comes from choice (i.e. decision-making power), content (the ability to change one's job to fit their strengths, talents, passions) and collaboration. This accomplishes two of the three and could indirectly help with the third--content. Your ninjas will be engaged and excited to come to work on each Monday to slay the hassles, headaches and hindrances that make their jobs dreadful.

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