Awards Energize a Suggestion Program

Article excerpt

During the first six months of 1987, a suggestion box for accounts-receivable employees in the Internal Medicine Business Office of Washington University School of Medicine contained only one employee idea. It was an anonymous complaint.

Administrators recognized that there was a need for improved problem identification and resolution. They also acknowledged that employees who performed hands-on work were equipped best to identify problems and offer workable solutions. After careful analysis, the office began a formal employee suggestion program in October 1987.

Today, the suggestion program has grown from a fledgling effort to a dynamic suggestion process. Seventy employees are eligible. Of those, 82% submit suggestions, 65% of which are adopted. In 1991, each eligible employee submitted an average of 2.78 ideas. The results during the first quarter of 1992 were double those of the previous year. These statistics far exceed national averages for suggestion programs. (See chart on page 98). (Chart omitted)

Designed to inspire improvement. SMART(Sensible Management and Accounts Receivable Techniques) is a successful yet inexpensively administered employee suggestion process nearing its fifth year of operation. It was designed to inspire accounts-receivable employees to submit suggestions that could increase income, improve productivity, eliminate duplication of effort, save time or money, identify problems, or result in other office improvements.

All office employees to the level of assistant supervisor are eligible to participate. Supervisors and managers are ineligible because they vote for winners, and because innovation is expected from people in those positions. Supervisors also motivate their employees to identify problems, develop solutions and consider the benefits to the office.

The SMART process is quite simple. Using an entry form, an employee summarizes the identified problem, solution and benefits. The employee then gives the entry to the area supervisor for review. The supervisor, in turn, brings the entry to the special projects administrator, who records the idea, appraises it for clarity, and thanks the employee. The entry becomes blind at that point to eliminate possible voter bias in judging the merit of the idea.

The focus of the process is on creative problem resolution. Even when employees submit ideas that cannot be implemented, areas needing improvement become evident, and ways to address issues may be offered by others. The only time ideas are rejected at the outset is when the same suggestion has been made during the preceding 12 months. This limitation is enforced to encourage employees to address new problems as they occur.

Supervisors present suggestions from their area at a monthly SMART Committee Meeting. The committee includes all business office managers and supervisors. They review each suggestion, determine whether it should be implemented, discuss alternate solutions, and judge its impact on the bottom line. The committee selects first-and second-place winners, which are based on the perceived impact of the idea on the office. Winners' names remain anonymous until the next monthly results meeting.

All entrants are recognized at the results meeting, and those who have presented ideas that can be adopted receive gifts. The first place winner receives $75, a humorous prize and the coveted SMART Award (a specially-designed trophy with a magic self-illuminating light bulb. The second-place winner receives $50 and a humorous gift. Other employees whose ideas will be implemented receive free-lunch certificates. Entrants who submitted suggestions that can't be implemented receive honorable mention.

Success depends on several factors. The process itself is only the skeleton of a successful program. In practice, what makes SMART work are:

* Full administrative support

* An ongoing emphasis on the benefits of participation

* Sensitivity to employee motivational triggers

* Memorable awards

* Thorough tracking mechanisms

* Focus on the bottom line. …