The innovative ways these leading companies make the most of employee suggestions

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If you ever enjoy Greek yogurt from the minibar at a Kimpton Hotel, you have an entry-level staffer to thank. The award-winning employer started stocking the snack after an employee made a suggestion on the company’s online ideas board, which could be described as a 21st century suggestion box.

At any given time, the company is considering or testing two or three ideas recommended by employees, says Steve Pinetti, Kimpton’s senior vice president of inspiration and creativity. The ideas board was instigated after growth changed the company dynamics. “It’s always been a very open, honest, transparent culture,” he says. “In the early days it was easy because there weren’t that many hotels and restaurants, but as we got bigger … we would create online working groups.”

The company used shared documents, but soon enough there were so many documents and ideas flying about the intranet that it was time for something more advanced. The Kimpton ideas board was formed, and it’s now in its fourth year. Now, when “no-brainer” ideas like stocking Greek yogurt come along, it takes just over four weeks to implement. Other times, the process takes a little longer: Pinetti will test suggestions on selected sites before it’s rolled out elsewhere.

“A good idea can be rolled out within 70 days,” he says. “We’re a big company, but we still think like a small company so we still are very nimble.”

Pinetti says it’s the staff ideas that are a key factor in keeping Kimpton competitive.

Take these tips on alternative suggestion box systems:

Make it competitive For the past five years, the White House has launched a competition called Securing Americans Value and Efficiency, which invites federal employees to submit ideas that could save costs. The proposals have been so clever that more than 80 of them have been included in the federal budgets that followed.

Take the lead on topics At Kimpton, employees are guided through the suggestion process with topics that are suggested for them. This ensures “new people see the history around key elements and touch-points so they don’t repeat points,” says Pinetti. And when Kimpton management is brainstorming around a particular topic, they will post a topic and invite suggestions that they can test out.

Ensure employees understand the process If employees don’t feel their ideas are valued, it’s unlikely that the suggestions will keep flowing. At marketing agency Quirk, a flowchart informs staff of the progress their suggestions have made before the executive board and the timeline in which they can expect to hear back.

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