Think outside the suggestion box: Encourage creativity in your workplace

Studies show that there is a high correlation between the number of suggestions per employee and company success. The more suggestions made, the greater the likelihood of generating good ideas. Employees who are encouraged to be creative will be. Handled well, everyone will like the results.

Recognize every suggestion – regardless of whether it’s likely to be implemented or has an immediate measurable financial impact. An approach that values suggestions only for their bottom line result will not increase creativity. Recognize all ideas equally – big or small, viable or not – as soon as possible to encourage employees to communicate all their creative ideas.

Many good small ideas can set an organization apart from the crowd. A steady stream of low-budget, quick-to-implement ideas that constantly improve your business can provide your company with a sustainable, long-term advantage. Don’t stifle your employees’ creativity by limiting your program to ideas with a “big ticket” financial impact. Go for the little gems.

Large dollar awards for ideas often backfire by undermining teamwork and creativity. The award recipient may be resented by coworkers; people earning large dollar payoffs can threaten management who may, in turn, stifle ideas. High monetary awards waste resources that could be invested elsewhere. View any financial recognition as a token of appreciation, not compensation.

Clearly communicate company mission, goals and objectives. Make sure everyone in the company knows your priorities, major initiatives and challenges. Let your employees know their creativity is essential for success. Involve them in every step.

If you decide a formal suggestion program is right for your company, include the following steps:

• Define guidelines for your suggestion program. Agree upon a target number of suggestions per employee per time period. The goal should be attainable, based on past performance, but not so easy that employees aren’t challenged. Never punish an employee for not making the goal or for “silly” suggestions. Look at this as a coaching opportunity – a chance for supervisors to empower employees to look critically at their jobs and ways to do things better.

• Publicize the program. Develop a recognizable “brand” for your program – something everyone associates with the program. Be creative and have fun. This is a great opportunity to tap into employees’ creativity. Inform your customers and suppliers; they’ll appreciate your commitment to continuous improvement.

• Make the process easy. Make sure the program is well understood and that processes are straightforward and timely. Involve your employees in implementation.

• Acknowledge and recognize all suggestions. As soon as possible after the suggestion is made, send an acknowledgement. Consider further recognizing employees who meet or exceed goals for numbers of suggestions. Make sure employees’ efforts are visible throughout the organization.

• Provide timely feedback. Communicate whether or not each suggestion will be implemented, studied for feasibility, saved for later consideration or is not possible. If a good idea cannot be used, consider asking the one who made the suggestion for ideas to overcome barriers. Establish teams to study complex suggestions and create action plans.

• Publicize and celebrate your successes. Put the name of everyone who makes a suggestion into a drawing for a small reward. Make the most of your successes; include them in your company newsletter, post them on a bulletin board or your Intranet. Make sure your customers know about contributions your employees make to the success of your organization.


Since 1991, Laurie Breitner has assisted organizations with operational improvement, organizational development and strategic planning. Learn more at

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