An Old Idea that Works Like New
The other day, a lineman brought up an issue with me about Ceylon poles. In Santa Clara, we have transmission poles, many of which are Ceylon that cannot be reached with the aerial trucks in our yard. So, there were two issues that were of importance to this lineman: climbing Ceylon poles (especially tall ones) and having equipment that matched the plant.
As a lineman myself, I could empathize with both subjects. As unit chairman and member of the Safety Committee, I wanted to guide this lineman in the way that would best address these issues.
It occurred to me that utilizing the suggestion box might very well be my best recommendation to this lineman. The suggestion box may be an old idea, but sometimes this old idea can still obtain results more effectively and with less strain than a whole bunch of misdirected energy. Let me explain.
Suggestion boxes have been around for many years. Sometimes they are the butt of jokes and cartoons. But organizations that make the decision to set up a suggestion box have already made the related decisions to put the information in a record and to hold themselves accountable to have given every idea proper consideration. If you are an individual who has a concern, using the suggestion box can be the first step in bringing about change.
Of course you can take issues to your union steward, who has a responsibility to consider them. But every one of us can make a difference and sometimes we can rely on ourselves to make those changes that we see a need for. Safety issues that are important enough to worry about should be given the time it takes to write them down and put in a suggestion box. After doing that, you may also provide a copy to your union steward. This will allow your union representative to follow the process and ensure it receives the attention it deserves.
What happens after that?
A suggestion may be anonymously or it may be made with reply requested. If it’s a near miss, a suggestion box is the perfect place to have complete anonymity, which is a huge issue when it comes to near misses.
But in other situations, using your name has definite advantages. It puts the whole workforce on notice that an issue has been raised and must be addressed. If you can do that much, you’ve done your part to make change happen.
What happens when a suggestion is placed into the suggestion box? Every suggestion box has a protocol that goes with it, as to who opens it, how often, and how the documents inside are recorded and routed. Every document that enters the box, hits the “system” that is already in place. The system is designed so that the idea or problem is routed to the person best suited to solve the problem, or someone is assigned the responsibility to make a decision. And, in the case of all public and many private organizations, the system is transparent, because you’ve put your name on your original document and you’ve kept a copy. You can demand to know every step of the process, because it is a pre-approved process and everyone is supposed to be accountable.
As every employee, and especially every union steward knows, getting that much out of the leadership feels practically like a victory in itself. Knowing that an issue is “out in the open”—creating accountability for one individual manager—is a big step. Once a decision is made, or requests for comments and ideas are made, you can now direct comments to one individual, their next higher manager, or senior leadership if the problem seems critical. In any case, you’ve gotten a lot of bang for your buck—all from a few minutes jotting some ideas down on a suggestion form.
No organization is perfect and a suggestion box might not work as well as you wish every time. It’s an old idea, but even in this modern age the suggestion box is still a relatively easy way to make changes for the better, which is one of our underlying responsibilities as good employees.
January 22, 2007