Competing August 16, 2007 “Creating an effective suggestion system”


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Thanks to Jon Miller of Gemba Research and his article “The Suggestion System is No Suggestion” for much of the following information

Suggestion system conjures up an image of employees writing down ideas, putting them in a box and a manager or committee reviews these ideas to approve or reject. This illustrates why most suggestion systems fail. There are four objections for most companies who consider suggestion systems:

1) Creating a bureaucracy for review and evaluate ideas
2) Paying for ideas which should be part of everyone’s job
3) Suggestions turn into complaints
4) Finding resources for implementing ideas

Powerful objections. How then do some companies create and sustain effective suggestion systems?

Toyota calls their suggestion system “soul kufuu seido” roughly translated “working out creative ideas policy”

Toyota’s approach has the following characteristics:

1) Idea acceptance is a given (need for training in problem solving and kaizen)
2) Pay for suggestions (but don’t pay a fortune)
3) Coaches help ideas grow (and need training to support these efforts)
4) Implement ideas yourself

At Toyota, when a creative idea is documented and submitted, the idea is already implemented.

  • There is no review once the idea form is submitted, no decision of go or no-go.
  • There is certainly a review process, but this occurs at the lowest level possible, as quickly as possible. (need to train supervisors extensively in problem solving and kaizen)
  • The ideas are implemented by the person who comes up with it, they work with their supervisor who coordinates the timing and resources to implement the idea.
  • Some successful programs pay“a token reward “such as a box of soap, a case of beer, or something else of value, but not cash. Toyota however pays cash rewards from $5 to $2000 per idea implemented based on the impact of the idea has had on cost savings, most are in the $5 range.
  • How can Toyota accept 99% of the ideas? Supervisors review the ideas with the employees and coach them, giving them direction and hints, and generally help the ideas succeed. Supervisors are “idea coaches who have coaches above them and so on the development of a learning organization.


“It is no exaggeration to say that over the long haul the suggestion system is one of the most powerful Lean tools that an organization can adopt. Through misunderstandings of how effective suggestion systems are operated, they have been neglected for too long. I believe employees have great ideas and are waiting for a system they can trust to offer them.

Perhaps you could use this information to modify your approach and begin to reap the harvest of your people’s creative ideas. Begin slowly and measure success and failure…….Plan-Do-Check-Adjust….it works!

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