The following is an excerpt from Saving Innovation:
HELPFUL HINT: Teams in need of generating more ideas have often relied on suggestion boxes, open questions to employees or idea campaigns to drive results. This passive, shotgun approach to idea generation loses the power of focused and collaborative efforts. Relying on individuals working isolated from each other to solve problems and withholding from them the inherent power that comes from the strength of a group communicating rarely yields results superior to what teamwork can achieve.
Suggestion boxes are a particular pet peeve of mine. I describe them as the black hole of ideas. You’re much more likely to find a gum wrapper in a suggestion box than a great idea fit to solve your unique business problems.
There are numerous reasons for this.
Suggestion boxes are almost never managed well; rarely are resources ever put behind their use or into the ideas submitted in order to explore how beneficial they might be. A feature that should be mandatory when ideas are requested and offered that I’ve yet to see incorporated into a suggestion box is a strong communication loop to update employees on the progress of their idea, or if it’s even been read. The Grand Canyon could be filled with the ideas submitted to suggestion boxes that failed to generate any response back to the employee about the quality or usefulness of the idea – or even a, “thanks for the effort.”
Suggestion boxes are horribly unfocused, failing to ask anything specific. You may need to cut your company’s fuel consumption yet what you’ll most likely find in the “Suggestion Box” are opinions on the cafeteria food and dirty jokes.
The effectiveness of suggestion boxes are further derailed by the biases of the person tasked to read them. What if a new process idea comes in that isn’t on the radar screen of the employee sorting through the paper scraps or it’s something he or she doesn’t understand? It gets tossed.
Take my word after having spoken to hundreds of people around the world regarding their similar frustrations with suggestion boxes – they’re useless. The characteristic shortcomings of suggestion boxes work to discourage employee engagement and create a de-motivating experience which tunes people out of the creative process.