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Why the Suggestion Box Fails Every Time

We write about the suggestion box paradigm all the time (see: here and here), so we figured it was time to address what exactly it is and why it never works.

The suggestion box paradigm occurs when organizations use virtual or physical suggestion boxes as a method of collecting ideas for their idea program.

Here’s one common example:

Suggestion Inc. is looking for ideas from their employees. The project lead, Suggestion Sue, decides that the most cost-effective way to do this is by setting up an email account like a virtual suggestion box.

A few weeks pass and it’s time to launch her program. She sends out an email asking employees to send their ideas to her designated email.

Within the first week she gets hundreds of emails with ideas of all shapes and sizes. Overwhelmed, she decides that the best way to organize all the ideas is by inputting them into an idea tracking spreadsheet. By the time she’s done, she finds another fifty emails in her inbox.

Two weeks into her idea program and she’s somewhat caught up with the flow of emails, which have decreased, and so she begins to look through the ideas, looking for ones that she can implement or suggest to the leaders.

She finds a perfect one! It’s easy to execute so she starts on that one. It takes about two weeks to accomplish and now she’s ready to handle another idea. She goes to update her spreadsheet (which doesn’t take much time because by now, there are almost no more new ideas) and picks another idea.

What Suggestion Sue doesn’t realize is that the employees have quickly become disengaged.


The answer is actually quite simple. The employees have no idea what’s going on! From Employee Edward’s perspective, their idea could have made it to Suggestion Sue or it may never have been read or (even worse) trashed. To Edward, emailing their idea is the same as dropping their idea into a black hole.

The suggestion box is simply not designed for continuous innovation, because the engagement from employees quickly becomes disengagement. The rhythm of engagement is non-existent.Why The Suggestion Box Fails: Information Overload

The second reason why it never works is because the sheer amount of manual work to organize ideas is overwhelming. Suggestion Sue gets so caught up trying to organize and strategize that she doesn’t have time to actually execute ideas. Finally, when she does have time, the employees have all started to become disengaged. Eventually she’ll come across significant blocks and her ability to execute will become completely hindered—other responsibilities become more important and the initiative is completely forgotten.

Lastly, Sue will have no idea which ideas actually matter to the greatest number of employees unless she manually counts the similar ones in her spreadsheet.

How can you avoid falling into the Suggestion Box trap?

Run your idea program properly the first time around by opening up communication between Suggestion Sue and Employee Edward. Purchase idea software  to help create two-way communication between Suggestion Sues and Employee Edwards. Software can also help solve the problem of  finding out which ideas are important and can almost entirely eliminate manual work like entering ideas into spreadsheets.

If budget is limited and purchasing software isn’t feasible right now, ensure you dedicate a bigger team to manage ideas. Make sure someone’s dedicated job is to respond to the community, including letting them know that their idea has been declined or accepted, and if accepted, when the idea has been completed. While you won’t be able to eliminate manual work altogether, you can divide the manual work amongst more people so that the team can spend more time on the most important parts—creating a dialogue with employees and executing ideas.

Read more on the employee suggestion box by downloading our eBook:

Harness the power of employee ideas.