SAVE MONEY AND BUILD MORALE Institute an Employee Suggestion Program

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Employee Suggestion programs are a way to motivate employees. Based on the concept that employees often have worthwhile ideas. This is a way to recognize employees and save money.

If you’re looking for ways to grow your business and improve your bottom line, ask the experts -- your employees. They know better than anyone how you can improve your products, services, and customer relations and where you can cut costs without sacrificing quality.

So says John Tschohl, founder and president of the Service Quality Institute (SQI) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and author of several books on customer service. Employee suggestion programs, he says, can provide organizations with valuable cost-savings ideas, while at the same time build employee morale.

“When you institute an employee suggestion program, you are letting your employees know that you value their opinions and are willing to listen to them,” Tschohl says. “That goes a long way toward building employee moral, which also increases productivity. When employees feel good about themselves and their jobs, they perform at higher levels.”

Not all employee suggestion programs are created equally, however. Tschohl offers the following suggestions for creating a program that will get all employees involved and that will result in ideas that will save your company significant amounts of money.

No savings is too small. “Too often management focuses on ideas that will save $25,000 or more,” Tschohl says. “That can be so intimidating for employees that it can actually hinder them from participating. One of SQI’s suggestion programs—Buck-a-Day, which has been used by more than 3,000 companies around the world—asks employees to suggest ways in which the company can save $1 a day. If you have 1,000 employees working an average of 250 days a year, and each of those employees offers you a suggestion that will save the company $1 a day, you will realize annual savings of $250,000.”

Keep it short. “To be effective and to keep employees pumped up, limit the suggestion program to 30 days,” Tschohl says. “Enthusiasm for any program will lag as time goes on. Just look at what was accomplished in 30 days following the Tsunami last year. People did remarkable things. When a program goes on and on, employees tend to lose interest. Keep it short and exciting.”

Make it fun and non-threatening. “Most executives tend to implement very dry, dull suggestion campaigns,” Tschohl says. “In order for any program to be effective, it must incorporate humor. It must be fun in order to capture the attention—and heighten the enthusiasm—of employees. And the more excited they are about having the opportunity to help the company by offering ideas, the better the results will be. Humor can be a great motivator.”

Involve everyone. “The backbone of a successful employee suggestion program is to get all employees involved,” Tschohl says. “When you get employees to buy in to what you are trying to accomplish, they will feel they are valuable members of the team and, as such, will work hard to help you reach your goals. The performance and their morale will soar. The idea is to get each employee to consider his or her job and ask, ‘Is there a better, less-expensive way to do this?’”

Ask for little ideas. “We want to grab the low-hanging fruit,” Tschohl says. “When you ask employees to identify ways to save just $1 a day, for example, you are giving them a non-threatening goal. If they think they have to come up with suggestions that will save the company $25,000 or more a year, many employees won’t even attempt to participate. Ask employees to look at their areas or departments and to identify ways to eliminate waste and improve quality. ”That might involve something as simple as making only half pots of coffee in the afternoons to eliminate throwing out half a pot that goes unused,” he adds.

Implement quickly. “Your goal should be to act quickly on any suggestion you receive,” Tschohl says. “The beauty of grabbing the low-hanging fruit—of asking your employees for small ideas rather than $1 million ideas—is that you can implement them quickly. You won’t have to first ask the board of directors for approval to do so.”    

Recognize employees. “The most effective employee suggestion campaigns are based on recognition, not on money or trips to Las Vegas,” Tschohl says. “Recognize employees and do so in a timely manner. Celebrate them and their suggestions. Make them look like heroes. Publish their pictures and ideas in the company newsletter. Have a pizza party. Praise them in public.”

Service leaders recognize the importance of reducing costs and passing the savings on to their customers, Tschohl says. “Price is very important to customers, so it’s important to control costs,” he says.

“Globally, the economy is strong and many companies have become lax in looking for ways to eliminate waste and cut costs. If you want to survive and grow your business, look for simple savings, small steps that can be taken to cut down on materials or the time taken to complete a particular task. Those small savings will quickly add up.”

John Tschohl is an international service strategist and speaker. Described by Time and Entrepreneur magazines as a customer service guru, he has written several books on customer service, including Loyal for Life; e-Service; Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service; the Customer is Boss.

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