8 Best Practices When Using a Pen and Paper Suggestion Box

How to make an old-fashioned, manual paper suggestion box work at your company

There are some people who just love a manual, pencil-and-paper employee suggestion box. There is something special about that physical box and the act of opening it up to see what treasures it holds. While we obviously believe that digital suggestion box apps offer many advantages, some people still want good ole paper and pen.

If you're one of those people, you're in luck. We've built 8 essential things you need to know before you put that box out. Your affinity for that physical box will cost you some extra effort, but you can make it work. And here's how...

  1. Confidentiality is important.
    So, the box should be locked and made out of a material that you can not see through. People are nosey. If the box is see through, or unlocked, staff will try to read a suggestion they just saw a colleague submit.
  2. Location, location, location.
    This is tricky, and requires some thought. The box should not be placed in an area that stifles participation. So, don’t put it right outside the boss’ office door. You don’t want staff to feel like the boss will look at their suggestion the minute they walk away. On the other hand, the box has to be in a location where it gets noticed. Liz Tracey, Community Director of HQ Raleigh, said they increased the number of suggestions by 20% when they moved the box from an obscure place to the counter in the community kitchen.
  3. Provide suggestion forms.
    Suggestion forms should be provided so that you can help employees know what to do and also encourage them to submit productive suggestions. Include a statement about the importance and value placed on employee feedback. Also, include some clear direction as to what will happen after the suggestion is submitted. Try to avoid too much detail on the form, leaving room for folks to write freely. Do include a section on who the suggestion would benefit, and possibly a section on ideas for accomplishing the suggestion. Make sure the name field is marked “optional” - see number four below.
  4. Allow anonymity.
    It’s important to let employees make suggestions without identifying themselves. Why? Sometimes, there are suggestions that are too sensitive, or simply not worth burning the political capital. You don’t want to lose these suggestions by forcing staff to include their name.
  5. Timely responses are critical.
    There is nothing worse than submitting a suggestion, and feeling like no one cares. So, someone in the organization should be tasked with checking the suggestion box daily. An email should be sent to anyone who makes a suggestion, acknowledging their contribution.
  6. Evaluate, prioritize, and implement.
    Managers must develop a process for evaluating, prioritizing, and implementing suggestions. It’s best to solicit other employees’ opinions when evaluating and prioritizing suggestions. This can be done at staff meetings, through email, or by walking around soliciting feedback on suggestions. Care must be taken here to ensure the feedback is respectful, so employees are not discouraged from making suggestions in the future.
  7. Communicate.
    Communicating the suggestions that have been made and the status of their implementation is key to encouraging an engaged staff team. With a manual suggestion box system, you will need to use an employee newsletter or staff meeting format to do this. One idea, if you have one location, is to create a board where all suggestions are posted for a period of time. You will still need to communicate which suggestions are being implemented and provide a status for those. But at least this will let everyone see what has been suggested.
  8. Encourage feedback.
    The above steps will go a long way toward encouraging participation. However, you may need to give the employee suggestion program a little boost now and again. You can do this by sending all staff emails asking for suggestions on specific topics. Another way is to highlight one suggestion per month in a newsletter or at a staff meeting. Some companies have had luck with rewarding employees who make suggestions with company t-shirts and other swag

Some of the most difficult elements to manage in a manual suggestion box program are timeliness, coordination, and communication. If these aspects are making you think it might be time to consider an automated suggestion box program, there are some very cost effective options. We're preparing a follow-up post that compares and contrasts the various digital suggestion box apps. Subscribe to be notified when that is posted.