This is a true story and you need to read it.
While out to eat with friends recently, I heard a story that so caught my attention that I couldn’t wait to write about it. A former co-worker and now close friend of my wife and I humbly relayed something she’s started at work. She’s not the type to boast or draw attention to herself and to further put this in perspective, she’s the antithesis of the corporate, political-playing title climber. She’s got an incredible personality, truly enjoys people, and rarely is found without a positive glow. So, can you imagine that she’s potentially changing the way a Fortune 500 listens and communicates with its employees and customers?
Well, she is and she’s doing it with a chair.
She works in Communications for a very large retailer based in the Midwest who has thousands of stores worldwide, thousands of employees, and a bustling technology-filled corporate campus filled with energetic people trying to climb the ladder and change the world of retail.
Then there is Jill. She had a simple idea that – at first – was met with opposition. But, her perpetual optimism won over management and they told her to give her idea a try.
So, she plopped down two chairs in the heart of this busy corporate campus and put a sign over the two chairs calling out a topic for the day. She occupied one chair and then waited. And waited. And waited for another employee to sit down and discuss the topic she had posted. No technology. No motives. Just a person genuinely interested in her co-worker’s thoughts and feelings.
Well, her wait was short. People started to sit and talk. One at a time, Jill sat and spoke with employees. Taking notes on employees concerns and feedback, she promised their input would be anonymously passed on to upper management – and it is.
Would you believe that at times there are lines waiting to talk with her? They trust Jill and love sharing their thoughts with her. There are plans to not only increase the frequency of when she’s there to talk, but now she might sit at stores and talk with customers about their experience.
Again, two chairs. A topic. No technology. The whole world of business broken down to its simplest form – face to face, honest communication.
Here’s the copy that is used to advertise The Chair:
“The Chair” is designed to spark open, face-to-face, one-on-one conversation with employees in the simplest way possible: by offering employees a topic to talk about, an empty chair to sit on and an Employee Communications team member to listen to them (really listen – without a laptop, cell phone or Blackberry in the way). “The Chair” gives us a pulse-check on employee opinions, thoughts and ideas, while giving employees a place to be heard. “The Chair” is set up every other Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to noon for corporate employees, with plans to expand it to store employees in the future.
With all the texting, blogging, IM, emailing, chatting, Twittering, etc. isn’t it awesome that a simple thing like this is having such a dramatic effect on a very large company? Imagine what introducing fun or unique promotional products would do? With any company, constructive feedback from employees and customers is not easy to get. As a marketer, I practically jump off the ceiling if I can get a customer or employee to sit down and tell me honestly what they think of our products or marketing plan.
Honestly, I’m not sure just anyone could pull this off. If you could meet Jill, you’d instantly know why this is working. But, I think more companies need to try. Listening is so important to understanding, and understanding customers and employees is what empowers businesses to improve.
Like a lot of corporate environments, people are falling all over themselves trying to take credit for the idea, but in the end it was all Jill. She’s loving it and has truly carved out a niche for herself in corporate America.