Managers often spend hours analyzing reports and brainstorming potential solutions to problems. Yet sometimes the answers already exist and are waiting to be tapped simply by asking your employees. The key is to recognize and reward people once they speak up, so that they continue to contribute their knowledge and ideas.
Steve Heller, an assistant manager at Costco Wholesale in Carlsbad, Calif., recently told me how he and his front-end managers were wracking their brains to find ways to improve their cashiers' productivity. He knew that he had good people, who were committed to doing good work, but like most managers, he viewed problem-solving as his domain. So when his warehouse kept missing the company's goal for speed at the checkout registers, he met with other managers to develop a “hit list” of solutions.
As he was leaving the meeting, he noticed cashier Pam LaBlanc's name on the Top Performers Board and decided to congratulate her on her success. Picking up a lunch coupon for pizza and a soda for her, he went to thank her and asked, “How were you able to reach that goal?” Pam said she had relied on the help of others around her, and turned to an assistant to help her speed things up. She went on to elaborate with specifics.
“I learned more in 15 minutes about improving the productivity of cashiers,” Steve said, “than in hours of discussion and brainstorming I had done on my own and with other managers!”
This story exemplifies how a company can reward people such as Pam for their creative thinking. First, giving an employee a lunch coupon for pizza and a soda is a thoughtful gesture, but when combined with the personal thanks from Steve, it reinforced that Pam's efforts and ideas matter. And the Top Performers Board was an excellent way to publicly recognized her for sharing her knowledge.
Steve asked Pam one more question: “Would she be willing to share what she'd learned with the other cashiers?” “Absolutely,” she replied, and with that both she and her assistants helped to spread the word as to how they could all help to reach the company goal.
“Now we have more cashiers above the goal than below,” Steve says. But perhaps more importantly, they have a momentum and excitement to improve — all from a 10-minute investment in asking the right questions!”