The Suggestions System
An Underworked Resource

A suggestion system study from Japan reported that one major corporation received 20,000 employee suggestions and 80% were implemented!  This is an incredible set of statistics... 80% implemented!!  Quite possibly one of the keys to Japan's success is the utilization of every workers brain as opposed to the American concept which assumes that brain work is a managerial function only.  A good press room manager knows otherwise.

Where Management Fails
One must consider, can any managerial group identify each and every opportunity for improvements?  Can they identify detrimental waste factors, speed limitations, mechanical problems as well as the man on the line?  Not really.  Typically, managers are involved in their own orbits of responsibilities with paperwork dominating their time.  The point must be made that an IQ of 140 locked in an office cannot compete with combined brain power on the factory floor.  And that presumption of a 140 IQ in the office may be ludicrous in some cases.

What we are really considering here is the comparison between "street smarts" as opposed to academic or managerial smarts.  The important point to remember is that street smarts are the result of daily contact with conditions and a fully developed capability because of that exposure.  Most managers, if given the opportunity to spend some time in a problem area, would become "street smart" as well if time permitted.  The normal exposure to problems, in many cases, is on a second-hand basis as reported to him or her.  Information given is often flawed in presentation by reason of biased opinion or basic lack of knowledge of the root cause of the problem.

I am reminded of an incident where I was called in to troubleshoot a folder problem.  The manager said, "I know we have a problem with that folder.  I don't know what it is, and I haven't the time to check it out."  True story.  That's a glimpse of the real world.  Going one step further, I was called to service a press productivity problem by the plant manager and found the foreman didn't know there was a problem.  Also a true story.

Introducing the Suggestions System
The question is, how can we improve our flow of information from our machine and its operators to management?  How can we get ourselves "street smart"?  One good answer is with a good functional suggestion system.  It just so happens that in my days as a pressman I was a most prolific suggester in my company.  I submitted about 250 suggestions in a five year period.  One of those saved our customer $250,000 a year for over 10 years.  Many of my ideas struck out, but what a marvelous tool I had in the suggestion system.  The system made it possible for me to achieve changes that made my job easier and more productive.  Management had to respond.  That was great.

In order for your suggestion system to work, you must have a commitment to credibility.  This means that every suggestion must be completely studied and evaluated.  The suggester must have an opportunity to explain or demonstrate the idea and the original submission of an idea should be considered.  Any suggestion system will be quickly murdered by a lackadaisical approach by management.

The suggestion system should have a committee to provide fair evaluations and generous rewards.  Some companies pay the suggester 25% of the first years savings.  There are many formulas.  Awards can take many shapes.  A good minimum reward would be a $50 savings bond.  Being cheap or chintzy with awards is a big negative to any program.

A good suggestion system should have a promotional program showcasing awards and providing visibility to the suggestion boxes.  Suggestions should be actively solicited.  

The Suggestion System In Action
Let me cite two examples of the brain power available in any offset printing plant.  In the first example I did an in-depth analysis of one company's operation.  Later, I polled the pressmen for any suggestions.  They repeated every recommendation I had made plus five more I had missed.  The point is that local talent had the answers, but no channel of communication allowed them to be heard.  A good suggestion system would have exposed many of these new concepts.

Second example: A prominent consultant called on a South American company.  After extensive investigation, a trimmer-operator working in a far corner of the plant called him over and said, "I know why you're here.  Let me tell you what's wrong."  This operator, with limited formal education, then proceeded to report every problem the consultant had observed and gave excellent recommendations on the solutions.  Again, no one bothered to ask the old wizard, and no suggestion system filled the communication gap.

How to Implement it
Every plant has its share of brain power.  One must remember that a worker on the production line lives with problems and conditions which may be totally unknown by management and since the experts say "Identification of the problem provides 50% of the solution," isn't it wise to provide a suggestion system that brings those problems to light?

One other fringe benefit: The suggestion system can expose hidden talents on your floor.  I know, that's how you became a foreman.  Maybe you have some hidden jewels on your floor.

Put that suggestion box on your team.  Treat it with respect and give it the attention it deserves and you will be well rewarded.  After all, communications provide the grease that keeps the wheels turning.  The suggestion system is the craftsman's best tool to improve his working environment, his link with management, and it provides a great opportunity to give management a look at his intelligence above and beyond job performance.  It is one of the basics of good press room management.

Suggestions must be carefully formulated so that they can be presented in a positive framework.
  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Explain your solution in detail.  Provide drawings if necessary.  They do not have to be professional.  Give cost estimates if possible.
  3. Explain in detail the benefits from your suggestion.  Explain how it will impact your performance.
  4. Don't give up if your first efforts fail.  Keep trying.  Keep copies of your suggestions.  Provide follow-up if possible.
Remember, a suggestion is a showcase of your brain power and willingness to contribute.  Keep your mind alert for opportunities.  

This may be your ticket to promotion.  It worked for me.

by Frank Drazan

Related Posts:
How To Manage A Pressroom - The Basics
The Motivational Pyramid For Press Rooms

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