Software gives suggestion scheme a boost at Waitrose

suggestion-scheme
Jeff Blackler/REX

Suggestion schemes are nothing new, but underpin them with idea management software and they can boost engagement and even save money, as Cath Everett discovers. 

If you want to ensure someone feels valued and respected, taking the time to listen to their ideas is a great start.

And, as supermarket chain Waitrose has realised, the same applies to the workplace, where this kind of approach can not only contribute to boosting employee engagement, but can also help to make day-to-day operations more efficient.

As Stuart Eames, operational improvement manager at Waitrose, points out: “I’d say to anyone looking at process improvements in their organisation, never discount an idea. They might not always provide the best solution to the specific problem in hand, but they have been submitted because someone has identified a problem.”

This is where the organisation’s new “Partner Ideas” initiative comes in. Originally piloted at a few stores in July 2014, it was rolled out across the entire business in February 2015 to encourage the firm’s 60,000 staff (or “partners”) to contribute their thoughts on how to improve established ways of working.

Acting as a replacement to Waitrose’s “Good Suggestion Scheme”, the new initiative was assigned its own logo for branding purposes. Business owners are to take responsibility for it and there are dedicated applications in the shape of Wazoku’s Idea Spotlight software-as-a-service offering to underpin it.

Rated and ranked

Partners are encouraged to input their ideas into the system, where they are viewed by colleagues, who can add their own comments too. Each contribution is then evaluated, prioritised and selected by members of an “innovation” team who ultimately decide which of them will be implemented.

Examples of successful suggestions to date include changing the way that till receipts were formatted and managed in order to save paper, and adjusting the calendar function on stock management handsets.

This simple alteration led to massive time savings by drastically reducing the 42 presses it had formerly taken to get to a date code to only a couple.

“There is a bonus scheme available to reward ideas that are taken forward, but our partners just like to make a contribution and feel that it’s recognised,” says Eames. “People have been very engaged with Partner Ideas – we are averaging more than 20 ideas each week and we have implemented around 20% of those.”

The internal communications function has been heavily involved to ensure that staff are aware of the scheme, but a complementary business card scheme has also been introduced. This means that if an employee comes to a manager with an idea but finds that they are too busy to engage, they will receive a business card with the “Partner Ideas” details on it instead.

As Eames explains: “Saying that there is a dedicated team at head office to listen to ideas is far more encouraging than a ‘sorry, I’m too busy right now’.”

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