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The Suggestion Box

There was a time when businesses were largely “top-down” affairs run by managers who knew how to run things.  They had the knowledge, the experience, the education and so on and it was their job.  Employees lower down the ranks were expected to follow instructions and customers were expected to choose from products or services preselected for them.  Management put the systems in place and employees and customers alike had to use them.

But its not like that today (and hasn’t been that way for a long time, I hear you say).  Well maybe, and in many cases, businesses do a very good job of consulting their key stakeholders.  (The most obvious stakeholders in a business are its owners or shareholders, but they are not necessarily the most important ones).  So, think about this for a moment.  How do you view your subordinates or your employees?  Are you receptive to ideas and do you action them?  And what about your customers? Do you really give them what they want or need or do you prefer to sell them what you are passionate about or comfortable with and deliver it in a manner that suits you rather than them?  No-one has all the answers, all the time, so why do we pretend that we do?  More importantly, what happens if we persist in acting in this way?

At best, we could lose some business, but at worst, we could lose the business.

Recently, at a soft opening for a local tavern there was much enthusiasm from the attendees who applauded the result of a considerable amount of obvious hard work and expense by the owners and management.  Soft openings are designed to check that everything is in working order before officially opening to the public, and suggestions from those early guests would normally be useful.  In this case, however, a manager who was pleased to receive well deserved praise was not so receptive to a simple suggestion that a closed entry door could be appropriately labelled “push” or “pull”, so that visitors did not have to try the door first, before being able to enter.  Similarly, when a small family group wanted to move a couple of tables together they were met with some resistance.  Trifling examples, possibly, but management’s rigid adherence to its own beliefs and systems could come with a cost.

Years ago, businesses started looking for ways to be more consultative.  From the early 1900s or possibly earlier, physical suggestion boxes seeking ideas from staff and customers were in use and today there are many different high-tech, on-line versions of those – surveys, review sites, online fora, apps and so on.  Often physical suggestion boxes contained ideas that were simply ignored, but today the ability to comment on performance or make suggestions has never been easier, and the resultant ratings are available for all to see.  Which is why, more than ever before, managers of any business need to be continuously at the top of their game and be prepared to listen and respond to criticism and act on good ideas from any source.

All businesses should have a framework for an appropriate and ongoing process for gathering, discussing, distilling and acting on strategic and tactical information and ideas and no doubt one day, management of the local tavern will re-examine its systems and procedures.  And hopefully, as part of its strategic thinking process, management will start by asking the question –

What business are we in?

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