You see, but are you really seeing?
Recently I glanced at one of my husband's ball caps on the kitchen counter. This is a pretty common occurrence. He has dozens if not hundreds. And being the Enneagram 7 he is, they are usually scattered throughout the house. Normally, my eyes would roll, and I would either put it away to maintain my sanity and appreciation for minimalism or carry on with my day. But on this day, I saw more than just a ball cap. Today, I saw a winning strategy for growing employee creativity at No/Low Cost with a Potential for High Return. Return in terms of profitability but also in terms of employee engagement and employee satisfaction that fueled customer engagement and customer satisfaction. Let me explain.
My new favorite mountain bike shop
Last fall, my husband and I explored the towns around the cabin we had bought. A rustic (sounds better than old in and in need of repair) cabin dream we had had for a long time. Nestled in the mountains, it's a writer, and outdoor enthusiast's dream come true. And the perfect work-from-anywhere location for me. When overwhelmed with work/life demands, all that is required is a step outside and onto a trail. Ahhhh, divine. But I digress. Anyway, our first visit to BC Outdoors was at their Cherokee location. My husband needed an adjustment to his mountain bike, so I was looking around while we waited. The rack of stickers caught my eye. I picked up a couple that resonated and continued to look. The staff was accommodating, warm, and friendly. I'm pretty sure they didn't even charge my husband for the minor adjustment needed for his bike. As I was checking out with my stickers, the cashier began to proudly tell us how their staff designed the stickers and all the tees and hats. They even had a friendly employee competition between employees for designing their seasonal (limited time only) glass. I forgot to mention they had a Tap 🍻 Room as part of the store. So impressed by their warm and friendly service, my husband paused the cashier to grab one of their ball caps (Like he needed another one 🤦🏼♀️). Our focus had shifted. We weren't just buying from a store something we needed or wanted. We were affirming and supporting an actual human being and their passion. We connected on a different level than your usual purchase. And it felt good.
Since our initial visit, I have bought more stickers, and we each have purchased new hiking shoes, socks, and tees. We attended their anniversary celebration at their Bryson City location, where we made drink and food truck purchases and more in-store purchases. We have also paid for additional bike services at least twice. In a matter of 6 months or less, it has become our go-to store for outdoor purchases when we are at the cabin. Our purchases in the four visits exceeding $500 all started with two fairly inexpensive stickers.
The Employee Creativity Strategy of a bike shop
In seeing my husband's ball cap, I saw more than a ball cap. I saw the winning strategy of a bike shop. What if, like my husband's ball caps, you started to see an employee creative strategy everywhere you looked? Here are some takeaways from the bike shop's employee creativity strategy that can guide you to discover your own.
B - Be observant.
Be observant. Looking around your business, where are you spending dollars on someone else's passions when you could be unlocking your employees for little to no cost? By the way, the employees at the bike shop did it individually on their own without payment or using company time. They did it out of the sheer joy that being creative brings. And they told their story out of personal pride, not because of a corporate vision. Potential targets include employee merch, customer products or packaging, marketing, designing a new office or location, and designing training. Any product or service being outsourced is a great place to start.
I - Invite employees to create
Where are you hoarding all the creative resources? This could be internally or outsourced. Rather than put all your eggs in one basket with a person, department, or outside company, unleash the creative power of your employee by inviting them to create. And don't worry about your brand looking unprofessional. You and the organization's brand police still set the standards and have the final say. So invite, inspect, and see the greatness you inspire.
K - Keep employees engaged
Companies spend thousands of dollars on training. Training for product knowledge, for sales, for customer service. Yet I've never met a person with a passion who needed any training to talk about it. The joy and satisfaction of their creative love keep them engaged and engages anyone they tell about it. Employees are quick to buy-in to what they are a part of creating. I wrote a whole article on that linked in the additional articles below.
E - Expense savings
Using the products of the bike shop. They could have purchased resale graphic tees from dozens of vendors. But doing so would have cut into their profits and turned the potential passions of their employees into just peddling products. Using an outside vendor would have done zero for employee experience, engagement, and customer service. Even the hunt for expense savings can be a creative endeavor. Creativity involves not only creation but also destruction. If you want to know where expenses can be saved - ask your employees. They know. In fact, the very change initiatives you want to embark upon are costing you more than the expense of the outdated process, procedure, or technology when you fail to involve employees. According to Gartner Research two-thirds of employees have to hack work to accomplish their routine tasks. In their research, they note employees spend 1.9 hours extra hours a day. For the 10,000-person organization, this amounts to 3.1 million wasted hours, 1568 wasted FTE, and $78.4 million in financial loss. Expense savings could be like the proverbial ball cap on the table - right under your nose.
Perplexed at where to start
Perhaps your organization is bigger than a single team at a bike shop. No worries. That's where the innovative principles of design thinking as a leadership practice help leaders design creative solutions to whatever challenge is perplexing them. Keep employees engaged and creative in developing the solutions together for the highest good of all.