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Here's why your employees don't get stuff done: lessons from silly string and olives

Here's why your employees don't get stuff done: lessons from silly string and olives

March 13, 2016

Silly string. He was fighting in Iraq and he wanted silly string.


Todd Shriver, an American soldier serving in Iraq wrote to his mom asking for silly string, as much as she could send.


Why? No, he didn't want it to play pranks. He had an idea. He was going to save lives.


See, many of the buildings in the Iraqi war zones were booby trapped with nearly invisible tripwire. If the tripwire was touched, even slightly, it set off bombs that could kill a whole squad. Entering a building without seeing the tripwire was literally risking lives.


Todd had the answer. You got it. Silly string.


They would spray silly string in front of them before entering a building. If it stayed suspended in the air, they knew the room was booby trapped. Better yet, the bombs wouldn't be detonated by the silly string because of its light weight. Bingo.


How did Todd figure this out? Was he a commander? Strategist trained in West Point? Nope. Just a regular soldier. Kind of like any regular employee.


Here's why - he was empowered in a different way.


He was trained to problem solve. To think like a leader. To be innovative.


Here’s the problem. Most of us leaders agree that having our employees problem solve is a nice theory, but we don't put it into practice.


Why not?


Because deep down sometimes we’re like a business owner who I couldn't stand working with. Why? He kept calling  his employees "my woykers" (heavy NY accent and all). They think of their employees, especially their blue collar employees, as just labor. They're supposed to get their job done. That's it. He was like a modern day Pharaoh.


Whenever I hear “I just can’t find good people. They are all lazy,” Iimmediately know that the problem is with the leader not the employees. That’s hard to hear, but it’s true. Look, I’ve literally seen thousands of business leaders and their teams. Leaders who are constantly struggling with having “bad employees" and needing "better people" almost always have employees who simply reflect how their leaders treat them.


These leaders have got it all wrong, and here's why:


You're employees are closer to the problems, so they're closer to the solutions.


They're down in the playing field, so they see issues and opportunities that you, the leader, miss. If they're empowered and supported to spot these issues, and better yet, fix them immediately, they can and have saved companies billions of dollar, literally.


According to the Chicago-based National Association of Suggestion Systems, over $2 billion have been saved across the country by implementing employee suggestion programs.


That's $2 billion by giving Joe, the check-out clerk and Teresa, the administrative assistant a chance to share their ideas.


Sounds nice, but don't think it'll work with your business?

We'll prove it to you.


CLICK HERE to schedule a complimentary 15 minute session where we'll give you personalized, tested and proven techniques to empower your employees to act like leaders.


Check this out:


A shocking thing once happened with an American Airline's CEO, Bob Crandall who had a fascinating discovery. He realized that if he removed 1 olive from every salad served in first class he could save the company $100,000 annually. Not only would the missing olive go unnoticed by the passengers, but people weren't even eating them to begin with! Thousands of dollar, literally, were being thrown in thetrash every year. What an insight!


But here's the catch. Most people leave the story right there. But let's go one step further:


Do you know what a “ramp agent” is?


It’s the title given to the guys who clean up the aisles between flights.  The real power lies in his hands. If they are trained and empowered, don’t you think that they’ll notice that no one is eating the olives? Did it ever occur to a stewardess that maybe the olives were a waste? It’s all a matter of what you train people to look for.


Here's a 30 second quick experiment that you can do with your team today.


Ask them, “look around the room. What do you see?” They’ll tell you, “I see a chair, desk, people...” Then ask them to, “look for something blue. Now what do you see?” They’ll say “Wow. I see a blue pen. A blue jacket. A blue picture…” You can quickly demonstrate to them on the spot that we are unaware of the issues and opportunities that are right in front of us.  Simply by training people to look for specific things, they'll literally see things that are right in front of them and remain hidden to everybody else.


Here's the bottom line:


If you don't build a culture where employees are empowered to think like leaders, they won't. They'll just act like employees.


So how do you get your employees to think like leaders?


Here are 4 powerful and proven strategies you can start using today:


1. Give them power

Set clear KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and hand over the reins to managing the KPI’s to different employees. Have them be responsible for tracking and reporting on their KPIs. Give them ownership and empower them to drive performance. If you haven’t identified the main metrics that drive your business, it's like you're driving a car without a speedometer and gas gauge. Your team must know what to look for and matters most. Take a minute learn more about KPI’s


2. Fast Feedback Loops

Keep communication lines open. Build a feedback system which includes regular, quick check-ins and debriefing to encourageemployees to share their ideas and problem solve.  The key here is do it frequently in an open flowing dialogue. Then, sit back and watch the miracles unfold.


3. Build a Path of Ascension

Empower your employees to become leaders by creating a Path of Ascension for each employee. Not every employee will become the next CEO, nor should they. But every employee can grow in ability and leadership. Train them, support them, and become their coach.


4. Reward

Reward and recognize employees for innovative thinking and leadership. “I Love Rewards”, an employee rewards and recognition company, has a policy that any time an employee saves the company money the employee gets 10% of the savings*. Wow! What an awesome incentive. How can you get creative? Always give lots of meaningful praise for good ideas and implementation


Sounds nice, but still don't think it'll work with your business?

We'll prove it to you.


CLICK HERE to schedule a complimentary 15 minute session where we'll give you personalized, tested and proven techniques to empower your employees to act like leaders today.


Taking you from where you are to where you want to be,

Jon Goldman