There are many who would agree with the title of this article. There are as many, if not more, who would disagree. Let’s re-frame the question. Do employee suggestion programs work, or do they not work! The answer is YES.
Maybe we should re-frame the answer as well. It’s not the suggestion programs which work or don’t work. It’s the organization using such programs which fails or succeeds.
While many companies have discontinued formal suggestion programs for a variety of reasons, other organizations have reported extraordinary success by tapping the capabilities of their work force.
We’ve had the opportunity to witness first hand the true impact of an effective suggestion program working with various chapters of the Employee Involvement Association (EIA) across the country. As a result of what we’ve seen first hand, we’ve decided to share examples of employee contributions, the impact on organizations, and tips and tools to create, support and strengthen internal programs.
Let’s start by examining some history.
The idea of workplace suggestions began 288 years ago in Japan. You’d think we would have fine-tuned this powerful force by now, wouldn’t you? Well, some have and those particular groups have benefited beyond all expectations. However, here we are almost 300 years later, and only 3% of U.S companies have effective suggestion programs. Everyone talks about them. Few produce results. Sounds like a classic example of “the knowing-doing gap.”
Sharing the results of a survey conducted by “Office Team,” USA Today says: “Only 38% of working men and women feel their managers are willing to listen to new ideas and suggestions for improvement.” True or not, that perception will hinder any efforts to create, support, and benefit from any suggestion program efforts.
However, the 3% that have established effective suggestion programs have certainly achieved a return on their investment far beyond the time and effort involved.
Let’s examine a few examples of those that swear by suggestions programs.
- Harley-Davidson saved $3,000,000 in 30 days!
- The U.S. Army got 530 ideas in three weeks!
- Holly Farms identified $1,000,000 in savings!
- Eaton Corp. gained 944 ideas from 113 people reaching 100% participation!
- Parker Hannifin Corp. got 499 ideas from 103 employees!
- National Semiconductor saved $3,600,000 using a suggestion campaign!
- The U.S. Park Service made more than 12,000 suggestions with an approval rate of 75%!
Employees Buy an Airplane with Savings
One of the biggest success stories relating to employee suggestions comes from American Airlines (AA) in Fort Worth, Texas. AA ran a year-long suggestion program called “IdeAAs in Flight.” At the end of the year, it purchased a $50.3 million Boeing 757 with the money it saved from the employee suggestion program. AA receives an estimated $55 million a year from its employee suggestion program and reinvests $15 million back into the employees suggestion program.
A Gamble Pays Off
Randy White, an employee of Oregon State Lottery, submitted a suggestion to his manager after finding a solution to upgrade video-lottery terminal equipment so the equipment would accept the new currency issued that year. Randy recommended replacing 2,500 components in terminals at $12.50 each, compared to the manufacturer’s proposal of $450 per terminal. Randy saved the State of Oregon $1,200,672 (one million, two hundred thousand, six hundred and seventy-two dollars) and was awarded $5,000.
Heartland Foods, a Minnesota turkey processor, received 49 ideas from employees in the first four months of a suggestion program. After implementing just 20 of those ideas, the company saved $40,000 in the first year.
W.R. Grace, a specialty chemical manufacturer in Atlanta, saw its suggestion program generate 1,800 ideas from just 55 employees. It implemented more than half of them for a total savings of $125,000.
When South Carolina Electric and Gas set up a suggestion program, employees submitted 130 ideas during the first nine months. One of those ideas paid for the program tenfold.
Your organization has a source of talent that’s waiting to be tapped for new ideas. Employees are that source. Get out there and get inside their heads. Set up a suggestion program and tackle it with the same planning and dedication you would expend on any other major project. If you offer enough recognition and set up the right environment, the results will amaze you.