Employee Suggestions are
Do You Listen?
by Freda Turner Ph.D.
It is believed that the workplace suggestion box started with the Japanese
in 1721 when the eighth shogun, Yoshimuni Tokugawa posted the following note:
“Make your idea known .... Rewards are given for ideas that are accepted.”
Below are some examples of organizations that have listened and rewarded
employees, and have benefited:
In 1890 Johnson & Johnson was primarily a supplier of gauze and medical plasters.
When patients developed an irritation from the gauze, an employee suggested
putting talc between the gauze and skin. To the company’s surprise, customers
soon began asking to buy the talc directly. J&J responded by creating a separate
product called “Johnson’s Toilet and Baby Powder” which is now a famous household
staple around the world. J&J got into the baby powder business by listening
to an employee suggestion - and that business accounts for 44% of J& J’s revenues
Here it is, 280 years after the Japanese suggestion idea, however, only 3
percent of U.S companies are taking advantage of employee suggestion systems.
Bank of America is in the 3% group and started listening to employee suggestions
in 1928 when the chauffeur for the bank founder, A.P. Giannini, suggested
that the bank issue customers some sort of currency they could use while traveling.
The chauffeur explained to his boss that this would be much safer to carry
than cash. The chauffeur¹s idea became the basis for the travelers' check
business, and Giannini gave him a $1 reward for the suggestion.
J. Willard Marriott started out with a chain of nine profitable A&W root beer
stands according to the book, Marriott. One of the restaurants was
located near the Washington, D.C. airport that attracted traveling clientele.
One employee noticed that passengers on their way to catch a flight would
purchase meals and snacks stuffing the food into their carry-on luggage. The
trend continued to grow and the employee mentioned it to his boss. This communication
with an employee resulted in the store establishing a delivery of prepackaged
box lunches directly onto the tarmac. Several months later, the service expanded
to American Airlines catering to 22 flights a day. This airport food service
has now evolved to more than one hundred airports.
Sensormatic Electronics Corp. in Puerto Rico pays employees for producing
ideas that help the company be more efficient. Employees are paid $500 or
5% of the savings of implemented suggestions. In 1998, the goal was to achieve
$1 million in savings from employee suggestions. At the end of the year, the
company had adopted 30% of the ideas submitted and surpassed the goal.
An aerospace manufacturer in Kalamazoo, Michigan, had been forced into employee
layoffs in the past. Through the employee suggestion program, jobs were saved
and the company was able to attract more business and remain competitive.
Now in its fifth year, the company has saved more than $8.5 million by listening
to employees’ ideas of how to streamline and save money.
Employee, Art Fry, was singing in the church choir when he had a creative
moment. To make it easier to find the songs being sung at each Sunday’s service,
he used little slips of paper but when they would fall out, he felt frantic.
He put a little adhesive on these bookmarks and today we know this employee’s
idea as Post-it notes.
In the 1950s, a Sony employee requested permission to make a "pocketable"
radio that could fit into a shirt pocket. In the 1950s, radios depended on
vacuum tubes and to build such a miniature radio required significant innovation.
Additionally, transistors were only used for defense purposes, making them
quite costly. Sony finally gave the employee permission to work on the transistor
project. He made a break-through in the development of transistors that eventually
led to a Nobel Prize.
Another successful employee suggestion program comes from the Ceres Group
Inc. that has 1,100 employees nationwide specializing in the health and life
insurance industries. Their “Improvement Movement” program generated suggestions
that saved $340,000 in cost savings the first few weeks of existence – at
a total cost of $25,500 in awards back to employees.
The airline industry benefited when an airline officer suggested that air
cargo be repositioned toward the rear of the airplane. This idea saved the
airline $458,000 in its first year of use and the employee received a bonus
Monarch Marking System, a manufacturer of labeling, identification, and tracking
equipment in Ohio, trimmed the square footage of an assembly area by 70%,
reduced past due shipments 90%, and doubled productivity in the organization
after implementing employee suggestions.
Listening to employees can have profound effects on profitability and growth
if supported by top ranking officials of the organization. Teams that are
given the autonomy to make important decisions, initiate improvements, and
implement changes can improve specific target areas and impact the entire
Does your organization listen?
Freda Turner, Ph.D. is a researcher of best business practices and is affiliated
with the University of Phoenix Doctoral and Graduate Studies Programs. She
may be reached at email@example.com.
by Freda Turner | More like this in The
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