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8 Principles to Create the Ultimate Employee Suggestion Scheme

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar April 07, 2024

Many companies recognize the importance of involving their employees to enhance the workplace. However, tapping into the collective creativity of the workforce can be challenging. Often, the initial approach involves introducing a ‘suggestion box.’ Unfortunately, many companies have discovered that their suggestion schemes fall short of expectations. This is regrettable because a well-designed scheme can significantly impact the success of a business. Here are eight principles upon which your suggestion scheme should be based for maximum success.

Richer Sounds

The following eight principles are inspired by the work of Julian Richer, an English retail entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author. Richer is best known as the founder of Richer Sounds, the UK’s largest home entertainment retailer. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading two of his thought-provoking books: The Richer Way and The Ethical Capitalist.

In the first, he outlines eight steps to create a robust suggestion scheme. At Richer Sounds, this scheme serves as a vital engine for driving continuous improvement. By embracing employee ideas, suggestions, comments, and constructive criticism, they maintain a healthy organizational culture.

Richer writes: "Before I introduced the suggestion scheme at Richer Sounds, I probably used to come up with 90 per cent of the ideas for improving the company and that was hard work. It felt like pushing a wagon uphill. Now 90 per cent of the suggestions come from the staff and I am sitting on the wagon, being pulled up."

The numbers speak for themselves. Since the introduction of the scheme, they reportedly receive one of the highest numbers of suggestions per colleague (approximately 20) among all companies in the UK. Furthermore, they have found that approximately one in five of these suggestions merit further consideration.

“A good suggestion scheme is like having an oil well in your backyard. There is no more valuable tool for management.”
Julian Richer

Eight principles of a good suggestion scheme

The Richer Sounds suggestion scheme operates exceptionally well. These are the eight principles, as described in The Richer Way, that form the foundation of their effective suggestion scheme.

1. Make it important

The most senior person in the organization should actively participate in the scheme. This individual is expected to be the wisest and most experienced member of the business, lending credibility to the scheme. They possess a global perspective of the company and, most importantly, wield the authority to ensure that promising ideas are effectively put into action.

However, it’s essential to note that the involvement of this person need not become an arduous task. They won’t need to review every suggestion; instead, their focus should be on evaluating new ideas.

2. Make is easy

Simplify the process for submitting suggestions. Avoid creating barriers with complex or lengthy forms that require users to recount their life stories. At Richer Sounds, anyone can submit a suggestion—whether it’s scribbled on a restaurant napkin or neatly typed—as long as it’s legible. The focus is on making it effortless for people to share their ideas.

3. Answer all

Acknowledge all suggestions. There’s nothing more disheartening than submitting a suggestion and never receiving any feedback. Beyond common courtesy, recognizing when people take the effort to share their ideas is essential. At Richer Sounds, every individual who submits a suggestion receives a handwritten note from the scheme’s leader. Whether the idea is ultimately implemented or not, each person feels valued and knows they’ve made a contribution.

4. Answer quickly

Respond promptly to suggestions. If there’s anything that discourages people from sharing their ideas, it’s the realization that they might wait months before their suggestion is even taken into account.

5. Encourage discussions

Encourage people to meet in small groups to discuss potential suggestions. It is difficult to come up with ideas on your own, but when you are sitting in the pub with your mates after work, the creativity flows quickly and freely.

6. Reward little and often

Consistently reward employees in small ways. Many reward schemes fall short by focusing solely on cost-saving suggestions. However, valuable ideas extend beyond financial gains. Instead, recognize and reward behaviors aligned with your organization’s core values.

At Richer Sounds, they prioritize excellent customer service, which becomes the basis for their rewards. Initially, they offer a modest cash prize (up to a maximum of £25) for each suggestion received, as long as it adheres to respectful guidelines and doesn’t duplicate existing efforts. Thanks to straightforward criteria, Richer Sounds can promptly acknowledge colleagues’ contributions. Whether the idea is novel or previously considered but technically unfeasible, colleagues receive appreciation.

Additionally, every quarter, the company selects the top two suggestions for extra prizes. Winners can choose from a diverse menu of rewards, including a weekend at a health farm or a trip on the Orient Express. Richer Sounds’ inclusive reward system ensures that nearly everyone receives recognition, even if it’s a £5 token. Meanwhile, the company avoids unnecessary expenses associated with evaluators assessing potential savings.

7. Measure and publish

Track and publicly share the outcomes of your program. At Richer Sounds, they introduced a monthly report for colleagues, detailing the number of suggestions received from each department or branch and the total earnings for the year to date. This transparent approach generates significant peer pressure. When one team realizes they’ve contributed only twenty suggestions while others have submitted fifty, they promptly convene an ideas meeting to catch up.

8. Use them

Act on the ideas. While it may seem obvious, a scheme gains ultimate credibility only when you implement the suggested ideas. This practical execution is the path to meaningful improvements.

Your engine for growth

A well-designed suggestion scheme can serve as an engine for growth. Not only does it empower individuals to question and critique, but it also ensures that many organizational rules are rooted in their own ideas for improvement—ideas that are embraced and put into practice for the benefit of all. While there will always be tasks that people may not enjoy, understanding that these actions contribute to the overall success of the business encourages acceptance.

Now, it’s your turn to create your own suggestion scheme. In the words of Richer, "A good suggestion scheme is like having an oil well in your backyard. There is no more valuable tool for management."

Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
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