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November 28, 2001
Actually Using the Suggestion Box

Companies generally take one of three approaches to the age-old suggestion box, according to San Francisco Chronicle workplace columnist Dave Murphy.

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Some actually welcome suggestions and have an effective process for handling them. Others clearly don't care to hear anyone's suggestions and therefore don't solicit them.

And then there are companies that say they welcome suggestions but are inept at handling them. Ideas at these companies, Murphy writes, "get treated like sperm: Billions of them die for each one that gets born."

That's often the chief executive officer's fault, according to Murphy. He or she will talk about wanting to hear ideas or maintain an open-door policy - then reject or stonewall every idea solicited.

"That sort of indifference will eventually make a difference in everyone's attitude, up and down the organization," Murphy writes.

Sometimes, though, the CEO really does welcome ideas but never seems to hear any from rank-and-filers. That's because middle managers don't pass them up the chain of command, because of laziness, insecurity, or some other reason.

Murphy notes that one approach to solving that problem is using the kind of technology offered by a company like Minneapolis-based In Touch, which link CEOs and their rank-and-filers nationwide through toll-free telephone numbers.

Workers are encouraged to call the toll-free number to express ideas or concerns that should be passed on to management. The employees leave their messages on voice mail, then In Touch's staff types a transcript and passes it along to management.

Employees can leave the messages anonymously or attach their names to them. A third option, if everyone agrees, is for the suggestion to get an identification number so the employee could check later and get management's response without sacrificing anonymity.

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