NCR's Suggestion Box And Reward Evolution



NCR Employee Making Suggestion [Photo from Harvard Art Museum]

John Patterson was known for his ability to adapt as NCR grew. He also knew how people worked and understood the power of adapting systems to unleash their fullest potential. This was driven by his incessant, never satisfied mentality. He and his top executives listened to everyone for ways to make NCR better. The development of the suggestion box and reward system, along with its evolution over the years, is a great example.

Birth of Suggestion Box System

In 1908, a NCR designer discovered a way to improve a production process with construction of a press tool that could lead to great savings in manufacture time and tool costs.

The designer would go to his superintendent who denounced his suggestion as impractical. Then, a few days later that superintendent would take the designer’s idea and present it to their general manager as his own. The designer produced his sketch book with the idea giving proof.

Through the dispute, the general manager got the idea to make sure such incidents do not happen again. Additionally, NCR could incentivize, Patterson was all about incentives, employees to make suggestions, many who otherwise keep their suggestions to themselves. Now

Evolution of Suggestion Incentives

NCR would play on two human needs: monetary award (extrinsic motivation), and need for recognition (intrinsic motivation).

NCR would initially give a nominal two dollar award ($50 in 2017 dollars) for those ideas that were adopted. But the most important motivator was the suggester’s name would be included in a list made up at the end of every month of all the names of those who have had their suggestions adopted. The list of names was prominently displayed.

The designer who’s dispute initially inspired the suggestion box put it best: “The main benefit to the man rewarded, is not so much in the two dollars which is given him to cover the time spent in preparing his suggestion, which work must usually be done at home or at the noon hour, as in the knowledge that his efforts are appreciated, and that his name is before those in authority. He also realizes that the next time promotions are made he stands a better chance of consideration through what he has accomplished.”

The system proved successful in creating quality suggestions and and generating more loyalty among the ranks of the company.

As time went on, the monetary incentive went up well beyond inflation. By 1919, every single suggester received $1 ($14 inflation adj.) and a tier of prizes totaling $3,000 was available for the best suggestions. 1st place would receive $150 ($2,000 inflation adj.).

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