Keys to Employee Engagement: 7. Opinions

The seventh question in the Q12 is “At work, do my opinions seem to count?”

Many companies have tried suggestion boxes in an effort to get input from their employees.  Often these efforts fail for a number of reasons:

A Bad Idea for a Suggestion Box

How employees view the suggestion box.

If the employee’s suggestion saves the company a significant amount of money and the employee receives no monetary reward. Operational suggestions will dry up because employees feel management is trying to take credit for their thinking.

Sometimes the employees don’t take the suggestion box seriously and submit inane (sometimes profane) suggestions. Probably, in cases such as this, the employees feel distanced from their managers by being forced to contribute their ideas to a box instead of to a person.

Sometimes management pays only lip service to the suggestion process.  They may say they’re listening to employees but they never provide any feedback or act on the suggestions that get submitted. Employees give up because they see no value in the process.

One easy thing that can be done to encourage more suggestions to be made by employees at all levels is for managers to get out of their offices and interact with their employees.  It’s not enough to do it once a year; it has to be done regularly to be effective and for employees to accept it’s not a management gimmick. By being visible and approachable, employees will feel more comfortable coming forward to offer suggestions. Besides, the suggestion box is such an impersonal way to obtain input.

If you use a suggestion box, ensure every employee understands it’s their right to voice their opinions.  Sure, you’ll get some rants from the disgruntled and disaffected but, if you see a consistent pattern of comments coming from several employees, that should be a red flag there’s something you should be acting on.  Even if all you do is explain the reasons behind some company policy or procedure it’s better than ignoring the issue altogether.

Another thing that can help is to act on employee suggestions.  Everyone loves to see ideas or dreams become reality, and your employees are no exception. Implementing employee ideas will instil pride in your team, and it will encourage more employees to bring their ideas forward.

I once had a new packaging customer it had taken my team almost two years to develop, and we wanted to make a good first impression on our first order.  Although our plant was a union shop, I brought together the operators who’d be working on the order and asked them how they thought the order should be run and what would be the best materials to use.  When the customer received his order, he called me up and said it was the best flexo printing he’d ever seen.  The production team were justifiably proud of what they’d accomplished. 

Interestingly, the union never raised a concern about how we managed this project.  I think they saw this as a sign their members were being listened to and that their expertise was valued.

So, make a plan to get out of your office and devote 10%, 20% or 30% of your time to actively interacting with other employees in your company. Likely, within 6 months, you’ll notice a big positive change in performance.