Graffiti Feedback: Engaging your Employees by Listening
By: Peg Ayers
You know how time moves faster when holidays are coming up, and you have a huge to-do list? It was that time for me about 15 years ago when I realized I hadn’t figured out the holiday parade theme for my Contact Center. In our small city in the hills of West Virginia, we were the largest private employer. Our participation in the parade, which took place around Thanksgiving, was nearly mandatory.
Looking for a different way to gather our employees’ ideas on the subject, I put up, in the main hallway, the largest piece of poster board I could find, with the question:
What do you want our parade theme to be?
I received some good answers, we chose one of them, and many of our 600 employees participated enthusiastically.
But in addition to parade ideas, I received something I hadn’t expected. A few people had thoughts on things they’d like changed, and they wrote them anonymously on my holiday poster board. I had a robust open-door policy, and I was out on the Contact Center floor visiting with people every day, so why were they writing on the board?
It seemed there was an appeal to making suggestions through anonymous graffiti. So I answered them on that same board so everyone could see my replies.
Then I put up a new poster board with this sign:
Changes you’d like to see?
Please write them here and I’ll respond.
No need to sign your name.
Please be respectful.
This was the beginning of a tradition I carried on throughout my career. Each time I would explain it to a new set of supervisors and managers, they’d be appalled. What was I thinking, asking for a free-for-all of feedback? “Everybody is saying these things in the break room,” I told them, “Now they can say them to us.”
And say them they did! I got suggestions for cleaning and painting and lunch vendors. I got ideas that saved the company money. I got complaints about pay or other departments not pulling their weight. Every day, sometimes several times a day, I’d read and respond on that same board for all to read. Frontline people loved it. More than once when I left a center for a new one, I’d have someone say, “You need to take Peg’s Page to your new place—it’s great!”
These Japanese characters stand for Kai and Zen, meaning Change and Good. Kaizen was introduced to the West by Masaaki Imai in the mid-1980s. The Kaizen Institute (ca.kaizen.com) says:
One of the most notable features of kaizen is that big results come from many small changes accumulated over time. However, this has been misunderstood to mean that kaizen equals small changes. In fact, kaizen means everyone involved in making improvements.
Masaaki Imai says “Kaizen means ongoing improvement involving everybody, without spending much money.”
Peg’s Page was kaizen at its most basic: Frontline people articulating obstacles to optimal employee engagement and customer experience, and senior leaders removing those barriers. Over the years, the firm saved many thousands of dollars as a result of improvements originated on Peg’s Page. Even ideas without direct payback had benefits, in better morale, more effortless customer experience, a more comfortable place to work.
Always Go to the Source
In later years, Peg’s Page moved into the 21st Century, and the comments and responses were available online for all to read. But I never gave up getting the original suggestions on paper and responding to them there. If people want to be anonymous, there’s nothing like a blank sheet of paper with a marker attached. Sometimes my response was just “Come see me please” because the issue needed a face-to-face discussion. Often I was answering a question from one that was in the heads of many. Always I was showing the front-line people that they mattered.
The Peg’s Page feedback loop led to kaizen: many small changes accumulated over time. It did this by getting feedback directly from those most involved and affected. Always go to the source.
At The Taylor Reach Group, we have years of experience going to the source to improve employee engagement, customer experience, and process. Please contact us to learn more!