At BGT Partners in Hallandale Beach, founder David Clarke wanted to give his staff a say in how to make the company better. So, Clarke took the classic suggestion box into the 21st century, creating a dedicated website where employees anonymously give him input on everything from perks to problems they want addressed. “It exposes things I otherwise wouldn’t have known about,” Clarke says.
The physical suggestion box has gone digital, creating new opportunity for workplace communication. From phone apps to websites to intranet portals and blogs, businesses are replacing paper communication with an online format where employee can manifest their visions and ideas.
“Companies have discovered that the ability to let their employees give ideas and share information is critical,” said Leslie Caccamese, director of strategic marketing and research with Great Place to Work. With employees often dispersed in multiple locations, leaders are turning to technology to encourage innovative ideas and help transmit them to the key decision-makers within the company. The companies that land on the Best Places to Work lists are those that have a foundation of communication, and increasingly electronic suggestion boxes are part of their program, she said.
Research shows employees want to have their say on issues or problems that arise in the workplace. On an informal basis, some 54 percent of employees make suggestions to their bosses at least 20 times a year, according to a recent survey by Right Management, an international career and outplacement consultancy firm. But without a formal system to submit ideas and respond, only a small number of those suggestions turn into results. “At a time when many employees feel stifled in their job, it is even more important that employers show that they are listening,” said Monika Morrow, senior vice president of career management for Right Management, in a statement.
At BGT, Clarke says he gains valuable insight from employee suggestions and has made it clear nothing is off limits. Through its interactive website, BGT Damn, employees anonymously have shared opinions on work-life issues, suggestions for perks and concerns about some managers’ lack of communication and leadership skills.
“We were able to provide coaching for leaders and prevent bigger internal issues that may have come from that down the road,” said Clarke, who sold his 150-employee interactive marketing company to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ advisory strategy and consulting services arm last month. Clarke says for his company, the complete anonymity of it allows people to be brutally honest; “it’s an important feature because we really learn more from the bad than the good.”
In other workplaces, employers are using collaborative suggestion boxes with a sharing component. Last year, hotel company Kimpton — which counts the Epic in downtown Miami and Surfcomber on Miami Beach among its 50 boutique hotels nationwide — launched a “Great Ideas Board” website where employees can upload suggestions and brainstorms at any time, from anywhere. Co-workers are able to log on and build on those suggestions. Steve Pinetti, Kimpton’s SVP of Inspiration & Creativity, started the concept to get employees brainstorming together. Either he or the appropriate division head provides a response to every post within 48 hours.