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Wal-Mart Employee Ideas
by Jim Collison

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"It's amazing how often the best answers come from those who are closest to the daily operation of the business -- your employees," said Tim Gebauer, who was Wal-Mart store manager in Mason City, IA. Gebauer oversaw some 300 employees who helped him keep the Wal-Mart store running 24 hours a day, 362 of 365 days a year.

"They know their piece of this business better than I do," noted Gebauer. "One of the most important keys to developing your business is to simply make use of the tremendous resources of experience and knowledge that are already within your organization."

"The knowledge locked up in their [employees'] heads is the big resource," said Gebauer. "Computers and technology we use every day, but what's up in somebody's head -- that's what can make a huge difference in how we use the technology. They come up with some pretty innovative solutions sometimes!"

Encourage Employee Ideas

Gebauer said that soon after he came to the Mason City Wal-Mart store, he had an employee asking to put a new product line in a premium space at the store. Gebauer admitted he thought it was a terrible idea, but the associate (all Wal-Mart employees are called "associates") strongly believed it would work, so Gebauer agreed to a 30-day test.

Gebauer was fully expecting to say "I told you so" at the end of the 30 days, but he didn't get the chance. The new product line turned out to be one of the most profitable in the store!
Gebauer said he admitted later to employees at a meeting that the associate was right, he [Gebauer] had been wrong, and the idea was a great idea. "After that, more ideas surfaced," said Gebauer.

"Once employees know that their ideas are indeed considered and used, they'll be more open to tackling the problems and opportunities in the workplace. Your people usually know there's a problem or opportunity before the leaders do. However, they won't say a word unless they know they'll be listened to and know that some of their ideas will be put to use. An important part was for people to see me using others' ideas."

"People do take a personal pride, satisfaction in seeing their ideas put to use," said Gebauer. Gebauer didn’t have a suggestion box. "I like employees to come to me," he said.

Rewarding Employee Suggestions

Wal-Mart associates are rewarded for their good ideas, said Gebauer. Gebauer made sure upper levels of management were aware of the contributions of his associates. It helped them achieve their goals, such as moving up through the management ranks.

Gebauer recalled having a problem between workers on different shifts when he was at another facility. "I called a meeting, stated the problem and its effect on the organization, and asked for suggestions," said Gebauer. The group came up with suggestions to help make their culture more encouraging. "As the leader, I took their suggestions to heart and resolved personally to be more encouraging and to offer more praise," said Gebauer.

Ask the
Jim Collison, author of The Complete Suggestion Program Made Easy, will answer your questions about suggestion programs, employee ideas, and employee involvement. CLICK HERE to email your question.

More Information on Suggestion Program Resources:
Suggestion Program "How-to-do-it"
You’ll get a goldmine of tips, examples, forms, guidelines, step-by-step actions to launch — or relaunch — your own successful employee idea and suggestion program...when you order the IdeaTracker Kit. And with IdeaTracker no longer have to be overwhelmed with keeping track of all the employee ideas and suggestions generated in your employee suggestion and idea program.