By Bill Catlette
In late December, a piece by Dave Gershman in The Ann Arbor
(MI) News reported the story of John Schultz, who
allegedly was fired from his grocery store job after
aiding a store manager in apprehending a shoplifter.
While on break, Schultz apparently responded to a call
for help by a store manager who, with other store
employees, had observed a "customer" stuffing about
$350 of merchandise into his backpack and leaving
the store. A five-year store employee whose job as a
fishmonger has taught him to handle slippery items,
Schultz apparently followed the guy outside, grabbed
him, and was restraining him pending arrival of the
gendarmes. When the manager caught up to him, he
reportedly told Schultz to let the guy go, which he did.
End of story, right? Wrong. Schultz was called in the
next day, Christmas Eve, to receive not a bonus or
commendation for going the extra mile, or even a
cookie, but, get this - a pink slip for having physical
contact with a customer. Yikes!
The article quotes Kate Klotz, a company
spokesperson, as saying that Whole Foods' policy is
clear and listed in a booklet that all employees have to
acknowledge receipt of before they can start
work. "The fact that he touched him, period, is means
for termination," said Klotz. I see.
Let's assume for the moment that the story occurred
just as reported, and that Schultz wasn't in the
process of doing anything extreme, like removing the
suspect's fins and tail with his fishmonger's knife
while awaiting the authorities, or further direction. Let's
also assume that today, another "customer" in the
same store is similarly observed confusing his stuff
with Whole Foods' stuff by Mr. Schultz's former co-
workers. Question: What do they do? I'll give four to
one odds that the correct answer is, nothing.
Most of us understand perfectly well that we don't want
untrained employees spontaneously engaging in
Wyatt Earp-type or other unsanctioned behavior,
particularly that which involves a real risk of people
getting hurt. Yet, we must be really, REALLY mindful of
the effect that our actions as managers can have on
the discretionary effort of our workforce.
Towers Perrin's latest Global Engagement Study, and
our recently released book, Contented Cows
Faster go to great lengths to establish that a
unspent discretionary effort, or Oomph as we call it, is
going home with our workers every day. Those of us
who operate any sort of labor-intensive enterprise can
ill-afford not to improve in this area. Perhaps the
easiest, lowest hanging fruit lies in the things that we
can simply stop doing in order to more reliably tap into
1. Stop punishing people for trying (really trying).
a complete smackdown on someone who has
vacated their break and answered a call for help by
putting themselves at risk, with no aggrandizement
potential, has a lasting, chilling effect on the inclination
of others to go "above and beyond the call of duty." We
need to realize that when a person, any of us, makes a
snap decision to really "pull on the company's oars,"
we're not always going to get it right. If we lack the
ability as an organization to tolerate an occasional
errant but well-intentioned stroke, then we have no
business asking our people to go above and beyond,
let alone telling them they are "empowered."
2. Stop paying those who should be cooperating to
compete with one another. More so perhaps than
other systemic impact, our compensation schemes
often blunt discretionary effort by rewarding people for
competing when they should be cooperating. Make
sure that what your incentive programs cause people
to do is exactly what you are looking for.
3. Stop hiring for "good enough." One of the
most annoys high performers is to have to share your
workspace and oxygen with turkeys. Eventually, most
either power back a notch or two, or they leave. Make
sure your recruitment and selection procedures are
geared for those with Oomph in the tank, and a
demonstrated desire to be "extra milers."