One year ago I wrote an article called
"Empowerment in a Cookie." I dont like to repeat myself in these
pages, but I cant help revisiting this subject again in light of a recent
In the spring of 1997 I visited a grocery store called
Whole Foods Market in Devon,
Pennsylvania. Its about 30 minutes from my home, but I had heard that the company
focused on healthy foods, and that interested me.
During my visit there, I sauntered by the bakery counter when my eyes were drawn toward
the cookies. As a recovering cookie-holic, I really was not interested in buying any.
However, as I yielded to temptation, I focused on the healthy onesyou know, the ones
with fiber and such. So I asked if they had any crumbs or samples I could taste.
The young man serving me was kind and unusually patient as he mused over my obvious
buy-dont buy dilemma. Instead of crumbs, he simply gave me an oatmeal cookie to
taste. He then suggested the luscious (and expensive) chocolate chip cookies beside
themhe said they were really good. Proudly, I refused.
But somehow he seemed to notice a twinge of doubt in my refusal, so he asked again.
Again, I refused. Do you know how much I wanted to try that chocolate chip cookie?
Ill bet you can guess. And so did he, because when I returned home and opened the
package of oatmeal cookies I bought, I found two chocolate chip cookies that he had
secretly slipped into the package! Today I am a regular shopper at
Whole Foods Market. OK, not
just because of this cookie incident, but it helped.
What I sensed immediately was that this company must foster a culture of
empowerment that allowed this bakery employee (or team member as
they are called at Fresh Fields) to make an independent decision to satisfy, no, delight
Closer to my home is another very good grocery store where I shop when I dont
have time to visit Whole Foods Market. This stores products are more traditional, but
their service is generally good.
For the last few months, however, I have been having difficulty buying oranges. More
times than not, when I get to the checkout counter, the price for oranges will be
wrongusually higher. Correcting this is inconvenient and sometimes embarrassing when
there is a line of customers behind me.
I have mentioned this to the produce people, but the problem still exists. A couple of
nights ago I confronted one of the produce people again about the pricing problem, and
pointed out another obvious error. To their credit, they handled me well, and worked with
me to correct the problem. It finally took a manager to make a phone call and straighten
out the pricing.
While the manager was phoning the other store, I talked with the young man in produce.
He said that these juice oranges werent selling because the price was just too high
(because of the pricing error). I asked him if he could change it and he said no. He also
knew that they would be throwing out the oranges soon if they didnt sell. His
frustration in not being able to correct such an obvious problem in his own department was
I tell these two contrasting stories because they relate directly to customer
satisfaction and profitability as a function of employee empowerment. Two good grocery
chains with two very different approaches to management.
At Whole Foods Market, every employee is aware of his or her impact on profit and is
empowered to take independent action to maximize it.
The decision to give two
expensive cookies to a customer is not an insignificant decision. It is a business
decision that may influence the relationship between a store and its customer.
Unfortunately, it is a decision that most employees in traditionally managed
organizations have no authority to make.
My hope is that these two examples will clearly show how
customers and profits can be
won or lost when employees are enabled to take ownership of day-to-day problems.
again, it just makes sense.
For more information on empowerment, see the articles entitled:
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