Beware the backfiring suggestion scheme

Nov 15 2004 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Suggestion schemes that encourage staff to come forward with ideas can backfire spectacularly if they are not managed properly, leading to a loss of morale and productivity, according to a survey.

A poll of more than 100 managers and HR professionals by consultancy Reed has found that one in 10 thought suggestion schemes – where employees commonly get cash rewards for bringing forward ideas – ended up having the opposite effect to that intended.

Failing to follow up suggestions, a lack of commitment from top managers, continually rejecting ideas or landing them all on one person to deal with were all cited as frequent mistakes.

Badly run schemes can lead to apathy, resentment and people working much less effectively, it concluded.

Horror stories from the Reed survey included:

- "leaving the suggestions unopened or perhaps losing the envelopes";

- "irregular meetings to look at ideas, and the impression that ideas have been judged before they have been even looked at";

- "thousands of ideas just dumped on one person";

- "continuous rejection of ideas";

- "high bureaucracy, which resulted in a failure to take ownership by operational staff".

But where schemes were run properly they did bring benefits. Almost three quarters of those polled – 72 per cent – believed suggestion schemes could be effective in helping to instil a spirit of enterprise among staff.

Reed Consulting chairman James Reed said: "The learning points are clear. People do not want to feel their ideas and their creativity are wasted. They want schemes which are fully supported by top management, where suggestions are clearly acted on, and where as a consequence everyone in the organisation buys into the process.

"If this can be delivered, the bottom line benefits for the organisation follow, and

can be extremely valuable."

In a separate development, over the summer the East of England Development Agency launched its own campaign to encourage small and medium-sized employers to look at how they come up with ideas, and whether they could be doing better.

Called Space for Ideas, the campaign included running a series of "ideas audits" at three firms to see what they were doing right or wrong, and what lessons other employers could learn.