Yokl: What can and will go wrong with suggestion programs

I can’t think of a healthcare organization in the county that doesn’t have a suggestion program, where employees are encouraged to give their bright ideas to improve their hospital. Even though these programs are well intentioned most healthcare organizations only get a trickle of suggestions from their staff, then wonder why it isn’t working.

The simple answer to the quandary is that healthcare organizations usually start their suggestion programs with great flare, enthusiasm and gusto, but then after a few months forget they even exist. Like any other successful management initiative, nothing can be left to chance if you are serious about having your suggestion program yielding hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions) of dollars’ savings and quality improvement each and every year. However, saving money isn’t a good enough reason to grow, sustain and invest considerable resources into your suggestion program over the long-term! 

An essential ingredient of successful suggestion programs is that they all start with a “mindset” that their suggestion program isn’t just a nice thing to have, but is actually an opportunity to give their employees ownership of their hospital. It taps into the intellectual capital of their workers, thus making their healthcare organization a more satisfying place to work.  The monetary advantage inherent in these suggestion programs takes second place to the primary goal of employee satisfaction in their workplace environment.

To get it right, you will need to be highly organized, set goals (e.g. one idea per employee per year), and communicate the reason that given suggestions to improve your hospital is a win-win for everyone. A fair and consistent process needs to be put in place to review, track and be accountable for all suggestions. Managers will need to be trained to encourage ideas from their staff and employees should be recognized and rewarded for their ideas along the way.  Most importantly, your suggestion program will need to be continuously refined, updated and re-energized as your program matures.


The most serious error you can make with your hospital’s suggestion box program is to consider it a one –time event: You launch it then forget about it!  That’s what can and will go wrong with your suggestion program — benign neglect!  Consequently, if you consider your suggestion program an investment in employee ownership and satisfaction you won’t let it die on the vine or be content with just a few employee suggestions from time to time.  It can and will become your window to what your employees are thinking about your healthcare organization and what they would like you to do to improve it. Can you think of a better way to safeguard that you have happy employees who then make sure that you have cheerful and contented patients, physicians and staff?

Robert T. Yokl

Chief Value Strategist

Strategic Value Analysis® in Healthcare


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