Know what your Empoyees Do

Larry, the President and COO of Waste Management (WM), oversees 45,000 employees in 50 states. He went undercover for a week as part of the CBS show Undercover Boss. He pumped outhouses, picked up trash from the roadside, sorted recyclables, and did a neighborhood garbage route with a driver. He was woefully incompetent at many of the tasks, often due to the efficiency standards WM imposes. He just couldn’t keep up. At the end of the day, he was sore and in awe of employees that did these jobs every day.

Joseph, CEO of 7-11 convenience stores, oversees 28,000 locations on 5 continents. During his undercover week, he mopped bathrooms, made coffee, worked the night shift with a delivery driver, and restocked sub sandwiches. At one store, he wanted to understand the secret behind sales of 2,500 cups of coffee a day. Was it the location? Was the coffee there particularly good? Turns out, it all had to do with Delores, a woman who’d been making coffee in the morning for 19 years. She knew everybody’s names, and was pleasant and speedy despite the 2 days of dialysis she endures every week. 

Larry and Joseph could have asked for spreadsheets about productivity. They could have hired consultants to give them a report and recommend changes. But then they wouldn’t have met Delores. There’s a much-touted management principle called “Management by Walking Around.” Of course, there’s a lot more to good management than that. But there is no substitution for getting out there, doing everything you can to really understand what your employees’ jobs are like. Who’s the Delores in your workplace that needs to be noticed?