You're a savvy small business owner with smarts, drive and determination, and you surround yourself with employees who possess those same qualities. So instead of always being the one to tell them what to do, why don't you consider opening up the floor to suggestions from them?
This may bring to mind the big white "suggestion box" mounted to a wall and little blank note cards without much room to write. And in many places, those boxes may be doing nothing more than collecting dust. But with the technology we utilize today, your next big moneymaker may be just an instant message away.
 Steps to creating an employee suggestion program
- Make it easy for employees to offer suggestions. Don't enforce rules such as: Employees may only submit suggestions on Friday afternoons; Suggestions must be typed in 12-point font and must be between 400 and 422 words; and, employees must use four sources of research to provide defense of their suggestion. No one is going to jump through hoops like that. Instead let employees know that suggestions are welcome through any medium -- even that napkin they were scribbling on during lunch.
- Offer positive feedback. You may not love and implement every idea that every employee brings to you, but be sure acknowledge the employees who do offer feedback and thank them for their thoughts and time. Positive reinforcement will keep thoughts flowing, and good suggestions will definitely come up.
- React quickly. When a staff member offers you a suggestion -- whether via email, quick phone call or a casual conversation in the break room -- acknowledge that idea. If you don't respond to the suggestion fairly quickly, the employee could interpret your silence as a negative, thinking that perhaps his idea was no good.
- Be willing to brainstorm. Maybe an employee brings you a suggestion that is good but not great. Sit over a cup of coffee with that employee and a couple of others and do some old-fashioned brainstorming. With several creative brains working together, the idea that may have initially sounded a little difficult or time-consuming might grow into a great cost-saver for your small business.
- Reward the best suggestions. A raise might not be called for for every idea that comes your way, but if an employee suggestion turns into big savings or lands a new client for you, offer a tangible thanks of some sort. A gift card from the new restaurant down the street or half a day of vacation would both be welcome rewards. Seeing the bounty that comes from speaking up with an idea might also get the wheels turning in other employees' heads.
Whether a suggestion from a staff member is for a new production, expanded service or simply a way to cut energy costs, each one should be a great reminder to you of the productive and creative employees you have. You never know: One of their great ideas might just be the jump-start your small business needed to take that next step. Whatever that step might be...