Give employees a say

You may have seen them by the timecard machine or tacked to a wall in the employee break room. The employee suggestion box has long been a standard for businesses, from mom-and-pop places to sprawling corporations looking to keep an edge on the competition. Getting and acting on ideas offered by employees who actively participate in suggestions can save employers money and build a sense of ownership among workers.

One of the earliest examples of the workplace suggestion box is recorded in the early 1700s in Japan. Allegedly the eighth shogun, Yoshimuni Tokugawa, suggested that others “Make your idea known. … Rewards are given for ideas that are accepted.” And apparently he liked one or two of them because the idea caught on.

The employee suggestion box, or program as many employers are calling it, can seriously add to the bottom line. According to Gallup, actively disengaged employees can cost the nation’s economy $370 billion annually. On the other hand, actively engaged employees become advocates for their company and increase sales through better customer service and product knowledge, according to Wright Management Services.

Terri Conway, senior vice president of talent for SHFL entertainment, previously named Shuffle Master Inc., has long listened to her staff as she said empowered employees who actively submit improvement suggestions give an organization a competitive advantage in generating money-saving ideas, improving productivity and increasing overall efficiency when and if a program is properly implemented. SHFL Entertainment is the gaming industry’s premier supplier of automatic card shufflers and proprietary table games.

“We have absolutely nothing to offer our customers without our great people,” Conway said.

A Gallup poll reflects SHFL’s corporate culture in that the 2011 survey shows that 59 percent of employees who are asked for suggestions say that their most creative and productive time happens while on the job.

“They have the best ideas, because the employees are the closest where all the activities take place, and they understand how some of those situations ultimately can be taken care of in a better and faster way,” Conway said.

SHFL receives employee suggestions one of three ways.

The first introduction to employee involvement comes after 90 days with a new employee luncheon. Employees meet with executives specifically to talk about their experiences within the company so far and suggest ideas while their perspective is fresh. Executives then implement the ideas that arise, if appropriate.

“One of the ideas recently implemented is to start a formal, structured employee suggestion program which began in 2013,” Conway said.

The second method is for employees to provide a formal written suggestion using SHFL’s new Business Improvement Plan program.

“Employees must state their idea, the potential impact on the business and map out how to implement the idea,” she said.

The third method is a tried and true business model, the open-door policy.

“Employees are encouraged to discuss the business and offer suggestions at any time,” Conway said.

She believes that a successful business starts with good employees who then attract good customers.

“Employees are closest to the details and servicing the customer so their ideas typically make the most impact,” she said. ”We value employee input and recognize them for it. Employees with formal written ideas are asked to give a presentation to senior management for the experience and recognition. Ideas that are implemented may be rewarded monetarily, based on the financial impact after implementing the idea.”

The guidelines are that the idea must reduce costs, increase revenue, improve efficiency or productivity or affect the business in a measurable way.

“We have a very open culture, and so at every company meeting, at every opportunity we have, it seems there is always a suggestion,” Conway said. “We encourage our employees to please talk with your supervisor at any time. We just want to hear from our employees.”

The company has what they call a Culture Club with 15 people representing the different areas that make up the expanding SHFL .

“Our employees know that they have an advocate that can go to a meeting and say that ‘This is what I hear from employees,’ and get the employees’ thoughts across to others in the company,” she said. “The formal suggestions tend to come from our new employees.”

The employee suggestions from new and longtime employees come together to build a stronger company.

“If they have been there a while they get used to the way things are, so our new employees can be useful when they come in and give a different perspective to our other employees,” Conway said. “They are all very helpful to us.”

In fact, their recent changes to a more structured suggestion program came from an employee.

“She set us up for business improvement,” Conway said.

SHFL ’s first automatic shuffler was installed in 1992 and has grown based on its solid product that consistently keeps up with market demand, much of which can be attributed to the company’s employees.

Julie Chan, talent partner for SHFL , has worked closely with the employees for three years.

“We worked with our IT team to develop the new program,” she said. “We really wanted our employees to be involved, and they are 100 percent. We’ve been consistently getting new ideas from them.”

From the president to the executive management team, the employee ideas have made a stronger global company with more than 800 employees. The effect of the suggestion that is used isn’t as successful as training when it comes to a great employee. SHFL uses suggestions in training as well to ensure employee involvement from the moment they come on board.

“We recently did an employee survey, and we were rated quite high on their involvement,” Chan said. “When employees feel they contribute and their ideas are valued you have an increase in their engagement. It’s the right thing to do.”

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