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Management commitment for successful suggestion systems

Andrew E. Marx
Everything mankind has and will have in the future is and will be the result of peoples ideas. Ideas are derived not only from people of above average intelligence, but also from those of average intelligence. Some of the more progressive companies in the history of modern management realized the potential value of their employees ideas for the improvements in the general functioning of their organizations. They have realized that idea power is the most tremendous human force in the world[1, p. 3]. A precondition, though, is that the ideas must be used in an organized way. This can be done by means of a formal suggestion system. Not only does the suggestion system offer employees the opportunity to make suggestions regarding all the factors which influence productivity but also they can benefit through monetary and/or other tangible rewards.

The suggestion must present a solution to the problem, potential problem, process or situation. The suggestion must be in writing. The suggestion must be signed by the proposer, even should the system provide facilities for anonymous suggestions. The suggestion must be acknowledged on receipt. As a precaution; to indicate which suggestion was received first, the date and time of receipt must be stated on the written suggestion[3, p. 547].

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Management commitment
According to The Penguin English Dictionary commitment is an act of committing to a change or trust; especially a consignment to an institution; an agreement or pledge to do something in the future; something pledged; loyalty to a system of thought or action[4, p. 163]. The pledge to do something in the future means to suggest that something be done in any possible way and to be dedicated to that something. This also applies to management commitment to suggestion systems. In fact, management commitment is the most important cornerstone for the success of the suggestion system. Management commitment will be discussed in an analogue to a Japanese war strategy of using a flag consisting of four symbols, namely the wind, the forest, the fire, the mountain(see Figure 1)[5]. The wind: keeping management informed The wind symbolizes the four winds which are symbolic of information coming from the four cardinal directions. Management cannot support something it knows nothing or very little about. There are certain things which top management must know, presented to them on a periodic basis, for them to be willing to initiate, maintain and expand the level of


A formal suggestion system

Most managers believe that, if a suggestion box is placed at a strategic point and emptied on a regular basis, the organization has a formal suggestion scheme. This is not the case at most it is an informal system. A formal suggestion system can be described as a formalized procedure to encourage the employees to think creatively about their jobs and their job environment and to come forward with ideas for which they will be rewarded on a specific basis, if acceptable and to the advantage of the organization. In order to be considered a formal system, all the following elements must be present:

Figure 1. The Japanese war flag

The system should be approved and supported by top management[2, p. 3]. The suggestion must indicate a problem, potential problem or opportunity to improve an existing process or situation.

management support. If management does not support the suggestion system, it is not committed and, if it is not committed, there will be no suggestion system. It is therefore important to keep management informed by means of reports on a regular basis at least once a month. A typical report[2] is shown in Table I. With this information, it will be clear to top management in which way the bottom line of the organization is influenced the main concern of top management. Reports to management should highlight how the operations of the suggestion system met its basic predetermined objectives. This information will enable management to make good decisions.

16 Work Study Vol. 44 No. 3, 1995, pp. 16-18, MCB University Press, 0043-8022

Report items The number of suggestions received The number of suggestors who participated in the scheme The number of suggestions evaluated The average time to process a suggestion The number of accepted suggestions The number of rejected suggestions The total amount of paid awards The average award per suggestion The total cost of keeping the programme running The total estimated first years savings for adopted suggestions The average savings per adopted suggestion The least single award payment The highest award payment The total amount paid for tangible suggestions The total amount paid for intangible suggestions Table I. Report for the month/year

Current month/year

Corresponding period for previous year

Keeping management interested and involved is important to the achievement of desired results. Most importantly, keeping the suggestion system in front of management through reports, will help them to make positive decisions which concern the suggestion system. The forest: planning in advance The forest on the Japanese war flag symbolizes scouts being sent into the enemy camp to study the situation. Management should use the information which was given to them by means of the reports to plan proactively for the future. Top management should be fully aware of the basics of the suggestion system, its purpose and goals, the average life

span of a suggestion, the average return on investment for a suggestion and any other aspect which may influence the decision-making process on the suggestion system. If there is insufficient information, scouts should be sent out to gather the necessary information. One of the outstanding aspects of this phase is to create the right climate in the organization for suggestion systems. The total climate for suggestion system effectiveness involves the management style of the individual managers and the organizational culture. The management style should be McGregors Theory Y style[6, p. 315]. This means that managers must believe that people are creative and imaginative, and they will fail to display this only as a result of

imposed constraints or a lack of challenge; employees will set and achieve worthy goals without continuing intervention. Given the opportunity, employees will exercise self-direction and self-control if they are committed to objectives. Management should realize that the average person can learn to accept and even seek responsibility. This management style will encourage employees to participate in the system. Another ingredient of the total climate in the organization is the culture of the organization. According to Mondy and Noe[7, p. 326], management must be aware of the types of corporate culture that the organization may wish to emulate, and one particular culture may prove to be superior to the other. Most behaviourists advocate an open and participative culture. This type of culture is characterized by trust in subordinates, open communication, consideration and supportive leadership; group problem solving; worker autonomy; information sharing and high output goals. This is similar to the characteristics of the theory Y management style. The opposite of the open and participative culture is the closed and autocratic one. This culture may also be characterized by high output goals. These goals, however, are more likely to be declared and imposed on the organization by autocratic and threatening leaders. The emphasis is on the individual rather than on teamwork. The greater rigidity in this culture results from strict adherence to a formal chain of command, narrower spans of management and stricter individual accountability. Suggestion systems tend to be more successful with an open and participative culture. The fire: implementing strategies When the Japanese war flag is raised, the planning phases of wind and forest have been thoroughly executed and the fire phase is about to commence. The fire signifies that, when they are ready to attack, they will do so like lava from a volcano. Attack means action time. There are many ways in which management can join the attack. In fact, it should not join the attack, it should lead it and can do so in the following ways[8, p. 107]:

getting actively involved in the strategy planning and goal setting of the suggestion system and making it known to all employees;
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viewing the suggestion system as an important management tool to improve productivity and profitability, and not regarding it as part of the fringe benefits of the employees; putting suggestion system reports on the top management meetings agenda and insisting on reports from the systems manager, reviewing the results and the future plans; making top managements involvement known to lower levels of management and to the employees by writing articles on suggestion systems for publication in industry journals, management periodicals and house magazines; signing letters of congratulations to suggestors; actively participating in awards ceremonies and promotion of suggestion systems at every occasion; insisting on press coverage for highlights of suggestion system activities such as awards and participation rates; using suggestion-system activities as an appraisal yardstick for measuring the progress of a department and the supervisors effectiveness; making the suggestion system a cost centre which must eventually be a profit centre (it should have its own budget which should be sufficient to fund the awards, stationery, printing of publicity material and other operating expenses such as salaries of the administrators and funding of competitions); appointing a high calibre person to be the suggestion system manager (this person should not be an individual who does not fit in somewhere else the person must have the status and prestige to gain the necessary respect of the other employees) and a back-up person should be trained to stand in when the systems manager is not available; conducting periodic formal employee attitude surveys to

determine the degree of suggestion-system effectiveness and with a view to improving employee attitudes;

allowing the systems manager flexibility and a certain degree of autonomy within a certain framework, for example to arrange departmental competitions and new reward and recognition techniques.

Top managements involvement in the attack to make suggestion systems a success creates a cascade effect down to baseline employees, which will encourage them to become active in the system. The mountain: backing up and reinforcing The last symbol on the Japanese war flag is the mountain, which represents the fact that headquarters is always protecting the rear, so that the soldiers can concentrate on the front-line fighting. Management should have a clear and understandable suggestionsystem policy. This will put the employees at ease because they know exactly what will be done when tendering a suggestion and what they can expect. Departmental heads and supervisors should get all the information they need to motivate their subordinates to participate in the system. After endorsing the suggestion-system managers reports, it should be made available to all the departmental heads and supervisors. Management must be patient, especially with a new or newly revised system. Enough time should be given to achieve its short-term objectives, for example to get as many employees as possible to participate in the system. The long-term objective should be for it to become a profit centre, but management must give it a chance.

employee understanding and attainment of both the organizations and their own individual goals. Suggestion systems are a legitimate management discipline, one which can have a tremendous influence on the attitudes and work performance of employees. Suggestion systems, therefore, must be responsible for carrying their part of the management load, and they must be held accountable for the effectiveness of their activities. Their management priorities must be tied closely to the organizations business goals. Finally, it should be clear that the four war flag symbols must harmonize to become truly viable. That is the task of management.
References 1. Seinworth, H.W., Getting Results from Suggestion Plans, 1st ed., McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, 1948. 2. Marx, A.E., A Practical Guide on Implementing Suggestion Systems, Juta & Co., The Rustica Press, Cape Town, 1992. 3. Scheer, W.E., Personnel Administration Handbook, 2nd ed., Dartneff Press, Chicago, IL, 1979. 4. Penguin Reference Books, The Penguin English Dictionary, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1985. 5. Goshi, A., Rebuilding the Japanese way, Sunday Star, 1 August 1993. 6. De Cenzo, D.C. and Robbins, S.P., Personnel/Human Resources Management, 3rd ed., Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1988. 7. Mondy, R.W. and Noe, R.M. III, Human Resource Management, 5th ed., Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA, 1993. 8. NASS, The Key Program for Maximum Suggestion System Results, NASS, Chicago, IL, 1977.

Suggestion systems can be a fundamental component of the management process and should be viewed as a contributing partner with other key staff functions in influencing
Andrew E. Marx is based at the Department of Business Management, University of Pretoria, Pretoria 0002, Republic of South Africa.

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