Ah, the trusty old suggestion box. This tried, and true workplace fixture has haunted many breakrooms and hung near the timeclock of many an establishment over the years. It's also been the butt of a lot of jokes. And, it's not hard to see why. Sometimes a thick layer of dust covers them. Or you pick them up, and instead of hearing the rustle of paper, you hear the jangle of spare change, paperclips, and thumbtacks.
But there's an excellent reason why suggestion boxes have been so popular in the past. They can actually make a difference. The problem is, the suggestion box requires a lot of work after the box has gone up. Some managers just get busy and forget to check it. Or maybe, if it's locked, someone loses the key. But follow-up is really the fundamental difference between a suggestion box that can help improve a cleaning staff versus one that just becomes a dust-covered mockery.
One powerful example of the power of the suggestion box comes from Ron Segura. He had just been hired as a manager of the custodial staff for the Walt Disney Company in California. The property had more than 750,000 square feet that had to be cleaned regularly with 92 in-house custodial workers. When he was hired, he was assigned to make the service better, as there had been complaints about the work being done by the cleaning staff. The issues at play there included ongoing conflicts between workers and supervisors, clashes between new hires and more seasoned professionals, and a general lack of respect for each other and the company. His first step toward tackling these issues was to put a box in the lunchroom and then encourage the custodial workers to put in their comments, complaints, and work-related problems. He tackled each box full of issues as they came to him until, after only a few months, the box was no longer needed.1
Segura was successful because he followed some important steps AFTER he put the suggestion box out. This included:
- He encouraged people to use it. Silently putting a box out on the breakroom table labeled “Suggestions” is not enough. Explain what it’s for. Tell people how you’ll follow up on their input.
- He read every suggestion and took them all seriously. You might have a few jokesters put in fake suggestions that you can quickly toss. You might have some staff with very angry things to say that you don't necessarily want to hear. But read them all, and more importantly…
- Tackle each and every suggestion/complaint that comes in. No matter what's written, figure out a way to address the issue. Not every problem can be solved quickly, but by starting to take action or making a plan of attack, you'll help reinforce with your cleaning staff that you're taking them seriously. You'll likely find that some people's problems might be solved just by you taking the time to get their input. They just want to be heard.
- It was anonymous. This is vital, as you’re going to get much more honest feedback this way. If you're tech-savvy, there are many free electronic suggestion boxes too. Just be sure all your staff has access to the internet if you go this route. Otherwise, a physical suggestion box is your best bet.
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