Suggestion Box Pays Off

People are sharing ideas like never before.

September 18, 2003
Medium Company
Name: Humility of Mary Health Partners
Location: Youngstown, Ohio
Business: Hospital
Employees: 5,000

Before 1999, employees at Humility of Mary were extremely dissatisfied, unions were organizing yearly, and patient satisfaction was at an all-time low, says Mary Seals, senior vice president of HR and organizational development. There was little trust among employees or patients, and the hospital was struggling to survive. "We had a culture of apathy," she says.

Four years later, it is one of the top-rated health facilities in the country, recently winning Magnet Designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, which places it among the finest hospitals in the nation. This improved status is thanks in great part to an internal campaign to improve communication between employees and management, and to build commitment to the hospital’s values and mission.

One aspect of the campaign is the opportunity for employees to share information and exchange ideas, including weekly newsletters and CEO-grams--a suggestion box that delivers employees’ thoughts directly to the head of the hospital, who responds to every one of them with personal feedback.

The most significant impact to performance, satisfaction, and cost-savings came from the Suggest It program, in which employees can submit money-saving ideas to a team made up of employees and managers. The team analyzes every idea within two weeks of receiving it and implements all those that are feasible. "Suggest It encourages employees not just to do their jobs, but to take part in improving their workplace," Seals says.

Every employee who offers a qualified suggestion automatically receives $50 within two weeks of the submission. And if the team decides to implement the suggestion and believes it can save the hospital money, the employee also receives 10 percent of the projected savings that will result from the idea--equaling no more than $10,000.

"They don’t have to wait until the idea works to get the reward and recognition; they get it on the spot," Seals says. "We believe that’s why it’s so successful."

In addition to the money, employees whose suggestions are qualified have their ideas read in a monthly management meeting where they are recognized and given their award. Anyone whose job will be affected by the idea is also invited to participate in the reward ceremony, and many of the ideas are shared in the company newsletter.

About 80 percent of Suggest Its receive some level of payout, and many of them have had a significant impact on hospital procedure, Seals says. For example, an employee suggested that the hospital change the way materials used in surgery are packaged. In the past, they were wrapped in bulk, which meant that once a box was opened, even those materials not used had to be resterilized. By packaging items separately, they eliminated unnecessary resterilization costs.

That is just one of hundreds of ideas that Seals has received through the Suggest It program. There have been 390 submissions this year alone, and she’s paid out $7,036 in $50 bonuses and additional savings awards. Their highest single payout this year was $1,826 for an idea that saved the hospital $18,260.

The best thing about the program is that it’s got people sharing ideas in a way they never have before. Hospital employees had been frustrated by problems such as wasted resterilization costs for years, but they had nowhere to go with their ideas, Seals says. Now they do.

Workforce, November 2002, pp. 81-82 -- Subscribe Now!