Paul Brown advises readers in his recent column in the New York Times to:  Bring Back the Suggestion Box!

For all those small-business owners looking for additional ways to cut costs or develop new sources of profitable revenue — and who isn’t? — one option may be to go back to something old-fashioned: the suggestion box.

Here are some suggestions about using that old idea effectively.

AN INSIDE JOB The obvious place to start is inside your company. SmallBusiness.com offers these four ideas

1. Make it easy. “Don’t enforce rules like: ‘Employees may only submit suggestions on Friday afternoons; suggestions must be typed in a 12-point font and must be between 400 and 422 words.’ 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.”

2. Think positive. Obviously, you won’t like every idea. Even so, you don’t want to cut off the flow of ideas. So thank everyone who contributes and do so quickly. Positive reinforcement will keep ideas coming in.

3. Brainstorm. If someone brings you an idea that is “good but not great,” sit down with that employee “and a couple of others and do some old-fashioned brainstorming” and try to get the idea to the point where it is something you can use.

4. Reward the best suggestions. Tangible thanks are always appreciated.

REVIEWING THE IDEAS Two common complaints from employees, whenever the idea of a suggestion box is raised, are that the people reviewing the ideas will be too high up in the organization to see what is needed out in the field and that some who make suggestions will lobby for things that benefit only their department (or them.)

To get around both problems, Susan M. Heathfield, writing on About.com, proposes creating “a cross-functional suggestion review team” with employees at all levels of the organization to review all suggestions.

A SIDE BENEFIT As Rod Sloane points out in his book, “121 Marketing Ideas to Grow Your Small Business” (Ecademy Press, 2007), there is an added benefit to offering employees a suggestion box: It could make you aware of internal troubles.

If you act on the problems the employees raise, he says, “a suggestion box will give your staff the message that you are interested in them as people, and not just as workers who get the job done.”

Read more at: The New York Times