They once gathered ideas to make a business more prosperous. Today suggestion boxes mostly gather dust, ignored by employee and employer alike. Some CEOs we surveyed, however, are trying innovative ways to revive the tradition. Here are some of their suggestions:
* Make it easy. You don't have to build a suggestion box per se. Bryan Beaulieu, CEO of Skyline Displays, a trade-show-exhibit manufacturer in Burnsville, Minn., relies on electronic mail. But the suggestion process doesn't happen of its own accord. To "prime the pump and break down barriers," Beaulieu pushes electronic correspondence at employee gatherings, encouraging all 220 workers to reach management's ear through the company's 100-terminal network.
* Change the concept. At Com-Corp Industries, a Cleveland metal stamper, president John Strazzanti has added "screwup boxes." "If we're doing something wrong, tell us," he urges employees. The resultant complaints are posted on the company bulletin board, along with management's responses.
* Provide a forum for follow-up. If receipt of a suggestion isn't acknowledged, good ideas are likely to drown in the well, notes Ray Otis, CEO of Hancock Information Group, a telemarketing company in Longwood, Fla. To encourage employees to expand on their initial insights, Otis discusses each suggestion at a monthly employee meeting. The result, says Otis: seeing that their views are taken seriously, workers can't wait to slip him their follow-up thoughts after the meeting.
* Stage a ceremony. Rewards for good suggestions don't have to be expensive, as Sequent Computer has proved. The Beaverton, Ore., manufacturer pays a token $10, dressing up the humble award with a battery of jokes and skits at an awards presentation. Recipients don't feel shortchanged, reports finance manager Ed Shearer, because the frolicsome fetes follow Sequent's work-is-fun philosophy. Which happens to be quite profitable: one $10 suggestion led to savings of $200,000. -- Susan Greco* * *