by Jim Collison
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.
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."
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
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.