empowerment

A recent trip to Lowe’s reminded me of the importance of empowering employees.

One Friday afternoon, I went to the home improvement store to pick up some mulch for my yard. I spotted a discounted Azalea bush marked down from $25 to $5. It needed some TLC, but for that price it was worth the investment.

When I went to check out, the cashier apologetically informed me that she would have to get manager approval to override the original price for the plant. This prompted two questions:

  1. Why was the new price not reflected in the bar code? This would have eliminated the waste of needing the override.
  2. Why was the cashier not empowered to do the override herself? If the store was concerned about abuse of the override ability, then they could track the amount of overrides per employee, and then address any unusual high usage with the individual.

As we waited nearly ten minutes for the manager to arrive, I asked the cashier about #2. She said that the store manager had mandated that a only a manager could approve the override.

I responded, “I think that those closest to the process should be empowered to make these decisions. Do you agree?”

She replied, “Absolutely. In fact, many of the cashiers have complained about it. But nothing has been done. They only listen to customers.” I could sense her frustration.

“When you’re a leader,” I said, “remember how this felt. Treat your employees differently. Empower them to make decisions.”

She nodded. “I definitely will.”

As a leader, it’s important to listen to the voice of the customer. But the voice of your employees is also important – especially those who interact heavily with customers. Not only was this policy frustrating to the cashiers, it was also negatively affecting the customers who had to wait for the manager to perform the override. Additionally, it almost resulted in a lost sale, as I nearly decided not to purchase the discounted plant due to the wait. Not only did the requirement affect the customer’s experience, but also the business.

Listening to and acting on the feedback from your employees is a powerful way to show respect. It makes them part of the process of both improving the business and customer satisfaction. I was reminded of this principle during my trip to Lowe’s, and it is one I suggest we all make the effort to remember in our daily work.

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