Good Business by the Town of Chapel Hill
There’s a story on my wall which is on my wall as an important reminder. It goes like this.
A boy was working on a project in the garage. He was trying to lift a big box but couldn’t budge it.
His father passed by and asked, “Are you using all of your strength?”
“Yes,” the boy replied with that tone of voice that usually goes along with rolling the eyes.
“Are you sure?” said the Dad.
“Yes, Dad. I am trying as hard as I can”.
The father responded calmly, “No. You’re not. You haven’t asked me for help.”
Business leaders are often hesitant to ask for help. They feel like they should have all the answers. And if they don’t, they often turn to a consultant. There can be value in that. There can be even greater value in asking the people who are already right under the same roof. Those who deal with the nitty gritty of the business every day.
And that’s why I applaud the town’s “If I were the boss” program, set up to solicit feedback from employees about the best ways for the town to save money.
Town Manager, Roger Stancil said: “We’re encouraging them and handing out cards and giving them ways to give us their ideas. It’s generally true that the best ideas are in their heads. We want to encourage them to give us those ideas so we can find a new way to do things. We’re calling that the “If I Were The Boss…” campaign.”
The cards referred to in the quote are simple index cards – blank and ready to be filled up with new ideas.
This is an excellent strategy that any business can put to work for the purpose of saving money, streamlining systems, improving customer service – anything.
A few variations I’ve seen on this approach include gathering the staff around the conference table for a brainstorming session or two or three. Or even having each person come prepared to present an idea which starts with the phrase, “If I were the boss, I would….” I like this approach because it requires every person on the team to participate in the process. A mixed approach of presentations, brainstorming and privately submitted suggestions is especially effective.
Time after time, I’ve witnessed staff members coming up with far more ideas that the manager could develop on his own. One time a group I was working with came up with a list of 100 ways to save money!.
An added benefit: when the group is involved in coming up with the ideas, they are much more committed to implementation. They may even be excited about it.
Managers may worry that involving staff could open up a can of worms. Or worries. Both possible. Both valid concerns. But most likely – the staff is already worried. About financial stability of the organization. About job security. And if they are getting no information from the manager, they are most likely making it up in their own minds or in little discussions by the water cooler and in the parking lot.
Wouldn’t it be great if that energy was focused on something that could have a positive impact on the financial health of the organization?
Then again, there’s that can of worms. And those worms can’t help but be messy. So here are a few lessons learned from the school of hard knocks and messy worm can management.
If the manager makes it safe. If the manager asks encouraging questions to draw out more information. If the manager doesn’t interrupt creative flow with long explanations about the reasons things are the way they are. Then it’s amazing the ideas and solutions that can come from these efforts.
- realizing duplication of effort that someone had noticed but was afraid to mention
- or an antiquated system that no one had questioned because it was so ingrained in “the way we do things”
- discovering a time consuming report system that no one reads or uses
- finding volunteers willing to reduce hours or benefits
- holding meetings via telephone or web conference
- getting rid of the office water cooler
- gathering office supplies into one central place instead of having multiple “silos” that are being stocked
- stapling paper from the recycle bin into notepads instead of buying pads of paper for in house use
I look forward to hearing what comes out of the Town’s “If I were boss” campaign.
And would love to hear from you too.
Have you ever done something like this?
And if so, what were the results?
Will you tell me about it in comments section below? Or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org