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Ye Olde Suggestion Box

May 6, 2011

In these days of open, transparent communication in organizations and the use of internal blogs, wikis and message boards, is there still a place for the old-fashioned suggestion box?

You know the kind I mean.  A wooden box with a slot in the top large enough to accept a scrap of paper.  The box is often bolted to the wall in the break room or a back hallway; padlocked and secured as tightly as the crown jewels at the Tower of London.  Great pains are taken to assure employees that suggestions may be anonymous and there are no cameras trained on that section of the building.  Periodically, Ms. Manager, the official holder-of-the-keys will open the box, take out all the little scraps of paper and take a stab at deciphering handwriting (“gee, that’s Bob’s handwriting – I had no idea he felt that way“).  Ms. Manager then proceeds to relegate the suggestions to one of 3 piles:

(A) This suggestion might make sense if only I had more information

(B) I have no idea what this person is talking about

(C) That’s just plain stupid.

In an ideal world, of course, Ms. Manager would be regularly gathering feedback, suggestions and ideas from her team through meetings, one-on-one conversations and just plain keeping her feet on the ground to know what’s happening.  Ms. Manager would work to establish a level of trust so that her team could freely share thoughts and throw out ideas for improvement.  Ms. Manager would be prepared to answer, debate, consider and make decisions.  And Ms. Manager would wonder why an employee would feel the need to share something anonymously.  And if Ms. Manager was REALLY on her game, she might have a well thought out suggestion program with incentives and recognition.

It’s possible that suggestion boxes continue to be prevalent and primarily found in certain industries – manufacturing perhaps or food service/hospitality.  But I also wonder if they’re an anachronism.  An old comfortable relic from the past when people punched in at the time clock on the wall with those little paper time cards.

Is the use of a suggestion box a cop-out?  Or still a necessity?

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