Thursday, September 02, 2010

They Also Suggested

The recent (7/22) post, “Let Me Suggest,” an uncomplimentary review of the Geezer’s experiences with suggestion systems, brought a flurry of reports from retired U.S. Forest Service folks about their unsatisfying encounters with the organization’s system.

Malcolm Furniss, entomologist and Project Leader, Intermountain Research Station, said he remembered the system as “Mickey Mouse.” He recalled receiving three $25 suggestion awards over a lengthy career, but said the ideas were so insignificant he can’t remember what they were. Furniss also recalled an associate getting an award for suggesting that employees should save paper clips.

Al Groncki, State and Private Forestry in the California Region, said he devised a form to make it easy for those considering retirement to analyze their financial situation. The calculations could be complex. His suggestion was adopted for national use. Why are we not surprised to learn the award was for $25? Groncki said he doubts today the form or references to it could be found within the Forest Service. Years ago, Groncki used the form to help out in an important personnel matter, so he thinks the government got its $25 worth.

At higher levels, sound suggestions could be ignored. Larry Lassen, who served as Station Director at the Southern and Intermountain Research Stations, said in his latter years with the Forest Service he frequently suggested that national meetings of Regional Foresters and Station and State and Private Forestry Area Directors (RF&Ds) should be less frequent, could have substantially shorter agendas, and ought to involve fewer individuals.

During Lassen’s career, the RF&D group numbered 20. Various others were invited to give presentations or just sit in for a while. I was drafted to help provide support for one RF&D meeting in Salt Lake City. Four of us devoted nearly two full days to routine support, and the number of individuals in the meeting room was 30 or more most of the time.

Of his frequent suggestions during critiques that the meetings be scaled down, Lassen says, “Alas, it seemed that the number of meetings increased and the number of non-RF&Ds increased.”

Tom Harlan, long-time Public Affairs Officer who retired as an Assistant Director in the national office, gets my vote for the best story. Harlan began by offering the opinion that employee suggestion awards “have to be in the most dysfunctional category of the public sector.”

Harlan recalled an incident from his early days in the 1960s at the Rogue River National Forest in Oregon:

"An employee got tired of having mops and brooms and other cleaning equipment thrown all over the broom closet. So he filed an employee suggestion that hooks be installed on the wall so the implements could be hung from them (he got a cash award for the idea).

"About a year later, the same employee made a suggestion that the hooks be removed from the walls because people kept gouging their heads on them. So the hooks were removed, and the employee received another cash award."

“How’s that for a great system?” Harlan asks.

How, indeed?

My blog post ventured into the private sector with some criticism of suggestion arrangements at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo. The result was a prompt phone call from a gentleman in Customer Service at the hospital who had read the post. He apologized for the original failure of hospital staff to call me, and solicited my ideas about the suggestion system.

The phone call was a very nice response to my complaint. I was especially pleased that no mention of $25 was made.

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