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“Your Ideas Are Worth Something”: How Sonoco Encourages Employee Innovation

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Early in 1944, Sonoco installed a handful of suggestion boxes for the first time.

With prize money on the line, we encouraged employees to share their ideas: “We want new ways to handle the products at all stages of manufacture and to improve quality and quantity.”

Within a year, this new idea contest regularly took place. Why? At Sonoco, we believe our employees' ideas are our most valuable resources. People, from the plant floor to the corporate office, build businesses.

Today, the idea contest has a new form—the Sonoco Awards and Recognition Program (SOAR). We recognize and honor problem-solvers who improve products, processes and services throughout Sonoco. With winners from every corner of our global business, SOAR recognizes innovators in these categories…

  • Customer Satisfaction and Quality
  • People
  • Process Excellence
  • Safety
  • Sustainability

SOAR winners overcame challenges and produced outstanding results. Recent SOAR winners included… 

  • One mill that reduced risk by 40% with no recordable injuries for 5 years that was honored as the Top 10 Safest Canadian Mills by Paper & Pulp Magazine in 2021.
  • One plant that eliminated extra effort and produced 600,000 PCM bricks using a less time-consuming but higher-quality process.
  • One set-up attendant who saved 450 hours and eliminated 120 sets of tooling each year by developing a new process.

At Sonoco, SOAR is only one way we encourage employee innovation in the workplace. We help our employees enjoy their work and discover valuable ways to contribute with additional methods like…

Our Performance System: Improving effectiveness, increasing longevity and standardizing processes, which helps prevent injuries, increase employee satisfaction and improve morale.

Our Partners: Maintaining mutually beneficial partnerships with suppliers enables us to explore new or additional services, broaden our customer base and provide additional opportunities to improve our services.

Our Pilot Plant Production: This program produces small amounts of packaging. Using our labs, we can better gauge how new packaging performs overall and eliminate possible defects.

Our Employee Resource Groups: Fostering a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment encourages each employee to share their ideas. Through employee resource groups, we work to include and show respect for each unique perspective.

Innovation isn’t coincidental. Infusing innovation in the workplace culture is critical, whether a company of 10 or 100 years old. At Sonoco, Better Packaging. Better Life. is more than a promise. It’s a reflection of our culture that pushes for better. We know the best solutions can come from any employee, so we provide opportunity and incentive for speaking up and suggesting improvements. Innovation grows when we create an environment for it to thrive.