The "suggestion box" is an old business idea, something you're more likely to see today in an old comic strip than in a modern office running on email and project management systems. But the principle is still true: The best ideas come from people doing the work.
Kreischer Miller and Company uses this principle - so well that it's won the "New Ideas" title in Workplace Dynamics' 2015 survey of the Best Workplaces in Philadelphia.
"It's so tied into our culture that I can't remember when it started," said Human Resources Director Bobbi Kelly. "It's one of the hallmarks of our firm. We have a culture of constant process improvement."
Kreischer Miller is an accounting and consulting firm located in Horsham, with clients including the Temple University health system, Taylor Wiseman and Taylor, and the Easter Seals of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
"The formalized program is called Bright Ideas," said Kelly. The basic component of the program is a website form that any employee can submit. "An idea can be very simple or very complicated. It could be to suggest new technology, or a better way to service our clients, or a better way to improve general office administration."
Higher up in the process, there is a series of semi-annual, Town Hall-style meetings, conducted by the Managing Director - where the proverbial Suggestion Box is still in use. "The joke about the proverbial suggestion box is that the key was lost somewhere along the way," explained Kelly. "But not only does our Managing Director, Steve Christian, keep that key close to his heart, but he uses it quite frequently."
At these meetings, the suggestions are taken from the box and considered one-by-one by the employees present. The only people excluded from these meetings are the senior-level executives, because "we want employees to feel free to make suggestions," said Kelly. "And if you keep it only at the top level, you're missing out on a lot of ideas. So we try to be very open to suggestions at all levels."
Many of the suggestions are small adjustments to the workplace.
"People really wanted summer hours," said Kelly. "They work really hard during busy season, which in accounting is January through April. After that, they wanted a little more work-life balance. So, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we get out around 3:00 on Fridays."
Other suggestions can lead to large-scale changes at Kreischer Miller.
For example, one team suggested adopting a new software platform for greater efficiency - not a simple change for a company that handles tax accounting and executive hiring for other companies. When suggestions are this encompassing, Kelly says, they are subjected to a multi-level and cross-functional evaluation - the potential benefits and drawbacks, how the change would be implemented, and so on.
But the most important aspect of the Bright Ideas system is that the employees know that no suggestion is too big or too small. "Employees know that their ideas will get appropriate evaluation. They know that their idea won't go into a black hole, and it won't be dismissed. We include them in the evaluation process. They've put a lot of thought into their ideas, and they can be very passionate about them. So it's important that their ideas are treated with respect and genuine consideration."
The responses to the survey administered by Workplace Dynamics of Exton show that Kreischer Miller's policies have made for a healthy and desirable workplace.
Many employees at Kreischer Miller cited the team-oriented atmosphere as supportive and empowering, and the Bright Ideas system was specifically praised: Comments included "All leadership constantly follows the open door policy," and "If you have something to say, there is always some there to listen. At least the Directors are willing to listen to ideas."
Kresicher Miller gives us two lessons about building a great workplace. The first is the principle that the people best informed about your business are your own employees. The second is that they want to make their jobs easier, more efficient and productive - so never lose the key to the Suggestion Box.