Do your employees understand their roles?

Read this story about a grocery clerks perception of his role.

Businesses can increase profits and customer satisfaction by ensuring that all employees understand their roles and the importance of what they do. I am sure that all of us have, at one point or other, asked an employee at a store a question only to be told in no uncertain terms that it was not their problem and they would not help. I wonder how much employees understand the purpose of their business and how they interact with customers or potential customers that could impact their jobs. I also wonder if employees understand how a company operates, even at a high level.
The story that I am telling could happen anywhere, unfortunately. In my case, it happened on one of my many trips to different countries in Europe. My limited knowledge of French, German, and Flemish was always a challenge, and in various stores, I found employees either trying to help me or running away from me.
People who know me know that my middle name could indeed be Chocolate. I love chocolate, but I am very particular about the chocolate that I eat. I like dark chocolates made in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and the UK. On one of my trips to Southern France, I went to the grocery store to find one particular brand of chocolate I liked. I was surprised to see that this brand of chocolate, so popular in France, was not on the chocolate shelf in the store. The clerks could not understand what I was asking for, so I took a colleague from IBM (where I was working) with me to the store the next day. As expected, the shelf did not have the brand. So my friend asked the clerk why they did not carry this famous brand. You can imagine our surprise when the clerk said (as translated into English by my friend), “Well, we used to carry that brand, but every time we stocked the shelf, people would come and buy it. So we decided not to order it anymore, so we do not have to stock the shelves so frequently.”
In this case, the clerks had no comprehension of the importance of their role in the grocery store. They did not realize that their work affected the bottom line and their salaries. Whenever I share this story in seminars, people do react in unbelief. But I wonder how often we have failed to make our employees understand the importance of their role, regardless of their position. In the North Carolina Executive Roundtable luncheon a few years ago, we had a speaker who talked about the CEO of a restaurant chain. This CEO always cleaned the bathroom of a franchise store whenever he visited it for the first time. He then showed the employees what he meant by a “clean bathroom.” He saw his company increase sales of one store at a time. Employees got highly motivated, and customers kept coming back.
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