“I cannot tell a lie.”
- Abraham Lincoln
A couple of weeks ago on my way to Seattle, I had a revealing interaction with a young lady in a truck plaza convenience store. She looked busy, cleaning up around the coffee pots and soft drink dispenser machines. “Looks like you’re wrapping things up. This must be the close of a busy day, the close of your shift. Everybody seems busy around here.” She said, “It’s been a hectic day.” “Well, that’s good. Being busy beats the alternative.” She said, “Yeah, it’s good, but it’s a lot of work at the end of the shift.” I asked, “How long have you been working here?” “Four years.” I said, “It’s a good company, isn’t it?” She said, “Well, it has its goods and bads. I’m not going to lie to you.” What a dramatic way to emphasize the point that the frontline will never “lie to you,” the customer, about management, employee practices, new products or policies. This is true; the frontline will never lie to you. They often only see the cutbacks, the shortcuts, all the changes they are forced to implement and fail to see how in the coming days, the changes could help the customer, how these changes could be good for the customer, secure their jobs and their future.
My experience as a customer has confirmed and reconfirmed that management doesn’t do an adequate job of ensuring that the changes being made in product offerings, hours, pricing, etc, are adequately communicated to the frontline. These associates are ultimately implementing the changes. Unless you ensure that your frontline fully understands why changes are being made, you can be sure that they will shrug their shoulders, apologize to their customer for the changes, make excuses, and worse case, criticize management versus selling the changes. They criticize management for not having listened to or taken the customer’s perspective into consideration. This is a huge opportunity for most organizations to create improvements, breakthroughs, and secure the loyalty of their employees and customers.
To reduce costs, improve response and inventory turns to operate more competitively, you must find ways to include
your frontline in the changes you make. As you find ways to use their ideas, to enlist the frontline as the pioneers of change, you will not only make the changes you need to make to capture competitive advantage, you will win your employees’ support. They will sell your changes and continue to bring forward ideas that strengthen your competitive position.
You have two choices here – one is for you to come up with all the improvement ideas, solve all the problems, and then explain, sell, and hope your changes are properly represented to your customers. The second option is to stimulate, motivate and create a climate where your frontline is coming up with performance improving ideas which they will enthusiastically defend. Believe it or not, often their ideas will be even better improvements than yours. This change could be the most profitable of all.
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