The view from the dishwasher

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, social media on March 18, 2010 at 10:15 am

To illustrate the value of open-book management, the folks at Zingerman’s like to tell a dishwasher story. And, while it’s primarily a story about how front-line insights can affect the bottom line, it also demonstrates a mindset that has become increasingly important in today’s highly connected marketplace.

A few months after the Michigan-based company opened its Roadhouse restaurant, the new eatery’s food costs were running high. While this is not unusual in a new venture, the folks at Zingerman’s (recently described by Inc. magazine as the “Coolest Small Company in America”) struggled to find the cause of the cost overruns.

So they did something unusual: They asked a guy back in the dish room for his thoughts. And this dishwasher noted that a lot of the dirty plates that came to him had French fries on them. Did the customers not like the fries? Quite the contrary; they loved them. But the portions were too big. So the company cut fry portions in half and offered free refills. Customers appreciated the offer of seconds, but few asked for them. As a result, the restaurant saved thousands of dollars.

Why would a company turn to a dishwasher—or anyone else outside the management suite—for financial insight? For Zingerman’s (as the company notes in a piece that can be accessed via http://zingtrain.com/more_samples.php), there are five good reasons:

  • It leads to better results. Letting people know the bottom line helps them see how they can add to it—and allows them to offer solutions to problems only they can see.
  • It’s in line with company values. While the Zingerman’s “community of businesses” seems to be particularly employee-focused, just about every organization seems to embrace some level of employee involvement these days. Opening the books is the ultimate embodiment of that philosophy.
  • It builds commitment. Give people information and they feel included. Make them feel included and they get more engaged. Engage them and they’ll feel more committed to your organization’s success.
  • It leads to better decisions. No one can make good decisions without good information. More information means more good decisions.
  • It teaches everyone to think like owners. Think about it: Do your employees think and act as though they are ultimately responsible for the organization’s success? No? Maybe that’s because they don’t have the big-picture perspective leaders have. Let them understand how your sales, costs and profits work, and they just might take a more personal stake in the organization’s success.

Certainly, these practices are timeless, but they hold special importance in today’s hyper-connected world. New media and social media put more of your people in touch with the public than ever before. That means your leadership and PR people are no longer your primary spokespeople – your people are, and they have greater access to the public than the front office ever did.

How can you trust them to say the right things? By equipping them and empowering them to think like owners. They’ll feel engaged and important. They’ll believe in what your brand stands for and truly want the organization to succeed. And, as a result, they’ll become the most powerful marketing machine you could ever imagine.

  1. I love this example! Internal communications is critical because everyone on your team sees things through their own set of (different) eyes and perspective. Thanks for sharing.

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