A few years ago I was a consultant to an apparel company in the Midwest. Part of my stint there involved sitting in on two-days of on-boarding training they held for the new sales reps from all divisions of the company: west coast, Midwest, Canada, and east coast. At this training regional managers taught new hires everything from product knowledge to how to give a presentation and standard selling practices.
The building was full of hustle and bustle as the corporate offices, manufacturing and the warehouse were all under the same roof. As the first day came to an end, the managers announced that all the sales teams would be going out for drinks and then dinner. As the group was making their way out of the building and heading to the parking lot, the warehouse employees were also leaving for the day as well. The new east coast sales manager, Michael, stopped to speak with them using his best attempt at Spanish and quickly made a note in his smart phone. At the time I thought nothing of it.
The next day followed a similar schedule but shortly after lunch the brand manager announced that the training was going to adjourn early so they could head to Friday night happy hour and then out for a nice dinner at The Cheesecake Factory compliments of the company. Michael spoke up and informed the east coast reps that they’d be staying behind with him at the office.
He brought his team of sales reps together, told them to ditch their ties and roll up their sleeves, collected twenty bucks from each of them, and then after a few weird looks led them into the warehouse. There he introduced them to Jose the warehouse manager who I knew to be understaffed, underpaid and overworked. Jose introduced the new sales reps to his warehouse crew. Michael explained that for the next several hours his team was there to help the warehouse workers. Jose couldn’t have been happier to receive the much needed help. His employees however were a little rough around the edges and were initially a bit suspicious of a group of sales people helping them. The sales reps learned how to pick orders, box them up, print packing slips and shipping labels and load the boxes onto delivery trucks. The warehouse workers were the experts and the college educated well-dressed new hires were clueless in navigating the aisles of inventory, driving a forklift or even packing a box. It was beautiful.
Towards the end of the shift Michael disappeared and when he returned flagged me down in the office asking me to help him unload a couple of cases of beer from his trunk and put them on ice.
When the shift ended Michael rolled a cooler full of Corona into the warehouse along with some take-out from Chipotle for everyone. They all shared a meal, learned about one another, their backgrounds, families, interests outside work and had a few cold drinks to celebrate the end of a long work week. Then the warehouse crew thanked their new colleagues before everyone went their separate ways that night. Something not so invisible to the human eye also happened that day.
Fast forward a few weeks, the CEO sent out a scathing company-wide email that recently there were an unacceptable number of mistakes with orders. There were some orders not shipping on time, other orders that did ship were missing items, and the wrong colors and sizes were being shipped to retailers as well. The majority of the mistakes could be traced back to orders locally in the mid-west, second and third were orders shipped to the west coast and Canadian retail customers. Strangely (or not) the error rate was virtually non-existent on the east coast.
A couple things happened that created this dynamic. Michael collected $20. from each of his reps that day in the warehouse. It was to buy the warehouse staff dinner and drinks. They paid out of pocket, so they were financially invested in their new co-workers in a small but meaningful way. They were also emotionally invested by rolling up their sleeves and working their butts off in the middle of summer in a hot warehouse with no air conditioning. They walked a mile in the warehouse workers shoes.
That investment was a two-way street and judging from the shipping errors, Jose’s team took extra good care with their new friends orders headed to the east coast. Those weekly trips by the Midwest office staff to happy hour and expensive restaurants that never involved an invitation to the warehouse crew… I get the sense they found a way to show their displeasure.
The takeaway: It pays to get your hands dirty and walk a mile in other people’s shoes. They don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.