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Kaizen and Innovation in the Workplace

When employees leave–especially the good performers–this translates into a higher cost for employers to replace lost staff as well as a loss of talent, knowledge and innovative ideas.

One of the things you can do to retain staff is to develop a culture for innovation in the workplace to enhance employee motivation and enthusiasm that leads to higher productivity and customer satisfaction.  A staff suggestion system (SSS) is a means to this end. This is a formalized mechanism that encourages employees to contribute constructive ideas for improving the organisation in which they work.  SSS is a Kaizen practice.

Kaizen is a system of practices that foster continual improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, and business management.  When applied to the workplace, Kaizen refers to activities that continuously improve all business functions, involving and affecting employees at all levels.  You can learn more about Kaizen principles in this business framework here.

The overall aim of the staff suggestion system is to gather, analyze, and implement ideas to create results that have a positive impact on the business, deliver new value to customers or both.  An effective SSS improves your own work and the working environment, creates ownership and trust, builds teamwork and, last but not least, enhances communication between employees and management.

staff suggestion system

For an SSS to be effective, management needs to create a culture that encourages employees to think and find better ways to do things, including improvements to product and service offerings.  There has to be a culture shift from a “complaining workforce” to a “thinking workforce”.

To achieve a high implementation rate, suggestions have to be job-oriented and implemented in the suggestor’s own department or function.

Implementing the System

Here are some steps employers can take to launch a suggestion system in their workplace:

  • Form a suggestion committee. Get together a small group of people from different functions. Integrate the suggestion system into existing in-company productivity initiatives, for example, quality circles.
  • Involve people. Create interest by involving as many people as possible from the start. Invite employees to suggest names and design logos/mascots for the suggestion system.
  • Promoters and in-company publicity. Announce the suggestion system to all employees. Highlight names of those who have contributed to the planning and setting up of the system. Announce the suggestion system in the company newsletter and intranet and put up posters to generate publicity.
  • Launch party. Hold a convention or conference and invite the chief executive officer to give the opening address. Take advantage of the occasion by distributing suggestion forms and invite employees to submit at least one suggestion per month.

Promoting the System

Consider developing monthly themes (for example, customer service) to focus ideas on an important issue that the company wants to improve.

Create the atmosphere by using more than a single method to promote suggestions. For example, encourage new hires undergoing on-the-job training to think of better ways of doing things.

Make reference materials such as related books and videos available. Disseminate monthly performance metrics on the SSS so that employees are aware of their department’s performance.

Create categories of awards, for instance, awards for increasing revenue, awards for reducing costs, and so on.

Launch an Innovation or Ideas Day.  Announce the results achieved and present awards to individuals, groups and departments for contributing their suggestions. You can also share success stories and invite external speakers to give talks on related topics.

Challenges

As in implementing any continuous improvement initiative, there are challenges in managing and sustaining a suggestion system.

Employees could fear reprimands for making suggestions as their supervisors might perceive their ideas as indications that the department is “not perfect.”

Where ideas are routed to the employees’ supervisors for vetting, there could be a counter-productive filtering of ideas at department level.

Sometimes there could be periods of low participation rates.  Possible causes include failure to maintain constant publicity, no target setting, heavy workloads and disillusionment from seeing good ideas that were not implemented.

Success Factors

An effective SSS requires management’s commitment to keep it alive. It is important to involve the middle managers in the idea-generation process as they are a key pillar to sustain the mechanism. Recognize and reward individuals and groups for participation.

To demonstrate credibility to the workforce, management needs to act on the good suggestions and evaluate suggestions fairly and promptly.

As Winston Churchill said: “The only way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” For this to happen, organizations need to implement a mechanism to capture employee ideas and bubble up the good ones.

A healthy suggestion system can bring many tangible and intangible benefits to the organisation as well as retain valuable talents in the company.

You can learn more about implementing an effective Staff Suggestion System in this document here.  

Browse Allan’s other documents on Flevy here, which include these other guides:

About Allan Ung

Allan Ung is a management consultant at Operational Excellence Consulting, a consultancy that focuses on maximizing customer value and minimizing wastes through Lean Management. He is also a seller at Flevy. View his documents here: OEConsulting.

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