Learn from the Little People

(On Tuesdays, we would like to take the time to remind the big companies that all their highly paid executives are not worth one good line level employee).

The inspiration for this series comes from an experience I had a few years ago. I was at an event and the speaker was telling us how her mentor refused to listen to her ideas because she was broke. That statement stayed with me for years. As the speech progressed, the point was that we must remain teachable. Then we heard how we have nothing to contribute because we don’t have any success. Later we found out said mentor stole her company right from under her.

The story underscores an interesting dynamic.  Many CEO’s and high level management executives refuse to listen to those that actually deal with the public. They spend thousands of dollars on studies and market analysis and they rarely use the one resource that has more than enough information for them, the line employee. Today, I will use the example of the retail store, especially since they seem to be disappearing by the hour these days.

You walk into the store looking for something and someone like me says hello and asks if I can help  you. Two seconds into the conversation, I know we don’t have what you want. I know the discount store in the corner has what you need and I can even tell you where it is in said store. The average manager frowns on that behavior. They think the better option is to try to sell them something else. So does upper management. I happened to talk to customers all day long (in one of my past lifes). I know that if they see me as a problem solver, they will always come to me first and then I can make sure that we have what they need. I also shoot an email to let management know what the customer wants in store (they don’t want to wait for it to arrive in the mail because they need it the same day). Said email goes ignored because the VP of (Insert ridiculous title here) has a study that says that customers are willing to wait two to five days for most items.

The study is wrong. For people like me who order most things online, waiting for an item is what we are willing to put up with, not what we would like. If I go to the trouble of getting dressed, starting my car and driving to your location, I want the item now.  Seems simple enough. It is, as they say, common sense. It is not common sense to these executives.

So, if you are the store management, what is the solution? For every survey that to send to a customer, how many surveys are you sending to your employees? Incentivize  it as you wish if you want more of them to answer. Offer them a raffle where the winner gets a $25 gift card to the coffee shop of their choice. Better yet, give them a $25 gift card to your store so that you get your money back. You can get so much more and better information if you ask your sales staff what does the public want. It will cost you very little and the earnings based on that advice more than cover the price of a few gift cards.

If you are wondering what any of this has to do with the story of the speaker I first mentioned, it is this. Rarely do people in high places take into account the knowledge of the little people. The point of her story was that only successful people have good ideas. I disagree. There are many reasons why we should always listen to all kinds of people. They might have been successful and then lost it all. Maybe they never found the way to do it. Perhaps the reason why they are talking to the CEO is because they want a partner to make their dream a reality. The important thing is to acknowledge that good ideas are not only deposited in the brains of already successful people. Unless they inherited it, most people started from the bottom and built their way to the top. Great ideas are everywhere if you are willing to put your ego aside and learn from the little people.

If you have a story about a different industry where you see how management is missing a great opportunity to improve their company, leave us your story below.