Everybody pays lip service to the importance of incorporating employee suggestions into company operations. But how should the suggestions be collected in the first place? The old slotted box won't work -- it makes management seem remote and can trivialize the ideas employees might contribute. Isn't there a better way?

The answer, says Terry Kirch, COO of Resource Information Management Systems Inc., a provider of turnkey software for health-care administrators, is lunch. The four principals of the Naperville, Ill., company, which has more than 150 employees, make a point of hosting twice-monthly lunches that encourage workers to keep the suggestions coming.

Five employees -- one from each department -- are invited to each session. They discuss where there's room for improvement in the company, and what's needed to make their own departments run more efficiently. "It makes employees feel important, and we get invaluable feedback," says Kirch.

Since the lunches began, a bottleneck in the company's paperwork has been eased by the suggested color coding of departmental forms and memos. A receptionist who was alarmed by the amount of personal mail being processed now sells stamps to employees. And one worker's complaints about her telephone led to its being fixed the next day.

"It's not necessarily that it saves the company loads of money, but the lunch lets employees know we care about what they're thinking," says Kirch. "And it makes them take their jobs and the company to heart.'