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Did You Know?
May 2006


Did You Know?
by Ken Carr
May 2006


               DID YOU KNOW...
               ... t
hat NCR was one of the first companies to offer a Suggestion System to its employees and may well have been the first to offer monetary awards for suggestions.  The idea for a Suggestion System came to Mr. Patterson long before he purchased the business that was to become "The National Cash Register Company." 
            He was walking along the canal that ran through Dayton at the time, when he noticed a large number of boats tied up and idled due to a break in the canal. After studying the situation, Mr. Patterson offered to the operators of the canal a suggestion which would shorten by one week (his estimate) the time required to repair the canal break.  He later received a letter from the canal management stating, “Do not presume to tell us how to run our business.  Please attend to your own."  It was at this point, he says, he decided if he ever had his own business he would make arrangements to receive suggestions from his employees.     
            Mr. Patterson took control of the company in 1884, and true to the promise he made to himself, he established a Suggestion System for the sales force beginning in 1885.  Meeting in small sales groups, suggestions were solicited and approved or rejected on the spot by vote of those present. Approved suggestions were immediately adopted as a sales policy or practice. No monetary rewards were given at first but were later added to the process. 
            In 1895, the Suggestion System was expanded to include Dayton workers.  This system was far more difficult to manage due to the number of workers involved and the wide range of subjects making up the suggestions. Initially all suggestions had to be presented to the employee's foreman who in turn would present the suggestion to management.  Mr. Patterson felt that the workers seemed to lose, in his words, "incentive to originate the new system." In discussing the subject with an employee who had followed Mr. Patterson from his coal business to NCR, he discovered the problem. Mr. Patterson realized that workers were not making suggestions because a few foremen had presented earlier suggestions as their own and had taken the rewards for themselves.  Mr. Patterson solved this problem by a means which was to become standard practice for all suggestion systems in all companies everywhere, the locked suggestion box.  He placed these lock-boxes throughout the factory and offices where they remained for years to come. 
            Not all adopted suggestions received a cash award in the beginning.  Just those chosen by the Suggestion Committee were given cash prizes at the semi-annual ceremony.  Cash awards for all adopted suggestions did become a standard practice years later, no doubt as a result of some employee's suggestion.  
            On March 20, 1895, the end of day whistle blew 15 minutes early and all factory as well as office workers gathered for the first Dayton Suggestion Awards Ceremony.  On stage, seventeen workers were recognized by Mr. Patterson and were awarded monetary prizes ranging from $30.00 down to $5.00. Since the average worker was making about $10.00 to $12.00 a week, these awards provided the incentive Mr. Patterson was looking for.  He kept that incentive alive by increasing the amount of the individual awards and the total allotted for the Suggestion System, going from the $200 given at the first ceremony to nearly $15,000 in 1903.
            The Locked box Suggestion System was such an affective tool for the growth and progress of the company that the awards eventually were made monthly and the system remained in affect until the Dayton operation was decentralized.   So popular was the system with the employees that nearly every issue of the "NCR News" from its beginning in the 1890's up through the mid 1960's contained a list of suggestion winners and the cash awards.

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