Last weekend I stopped at the supermarket to pick up a few things for dinner. I needed ½ lb. of American cheese, so I went to the deli which had a long line. This supermarket happens to have a refrigerated case where they stockpile common deli items; so you don’t have to wait. But to my disappointment, there were only 1 lb. packages of sliced cheese, double the amount I needed. I took a ticket and waited.
When it was finally my turn, I ordered my cheese. While the deli guy was slicing it, I said, “You ought to put smaller packages of cheese in the case. There are only 1 lb. packages in there.” I instantly got the attention of all four people behind the counter. One said that they’re not allowed to put smaller amounts in the case. Another said that she suggested smaller amounts and got her hand slapped. The same deli guy said, “They don’t want to hear nothin’ from nobody.”
I asked the deli employees if management ever asked them for ideas. They all shook their heads and rolled their eyes. They were clearly offended that not only were their ideas not solicited, but that they were actively discouraged from doing so. I was surprised how they all wanted to talk; it obviously struck a chord with them.
This supermarket is part of a large chain and I was surprised that they don’t want to hear from their people who are the ones talking to customers all day. Having ½ lb. packages of cheese available would not only make this customer’s life easier, but it would increase sales, as many people probably don’t wait around for just one item like I did.
This got me to thinking how many other little ideas could this store implement by listening to its employees. How many big ones? What kind of difference would it make? While impossible to quantify, I know it would make a big difference. I’ve been in the employee communications business for a long time and know what works and what doesn’t. Getting ideas from your employees is a no-brainer. It’s so obvious that I was kind of shocked this multi-billion-dollar company isn’t doing so.
So it’s worth asking – does your company ask employees for good ideas? As this article from Harvard Business Review says, asking for ideas creates a virtuous circle; workers become more engaged when they see their ideas being used. And managers, seeing the impact of employees’ ideas, give employees more authority— which leads to more and better ideas.
The article says a first step is to learn to appreciate the power of small ideas. I think offering ½ lb. packages of cheese is a good place to start.
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