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Management's role in passionate users


A few months ago, Skyler started working part-time at a Mrs. Fields cookie store at a local mall here in Colorado. They treated her--no, all employees--like ex-convicts. The default company assumption was "Employees are NOT to be trusted!"

This came through in policy decisions, but never more obvious than the what-to-do-with-leftover-cookies-at-the-end-of-the-night policy:

Employees must throw away ALL unpurchased cookies at the end of the night. Employees are expressly forbidden from taking leftover cookies home.

Skyler is the kind of person who collects stray animals and, in some cases, stray people. She has a soft spot for the homeless. She'd be delighted to take a nightly walk down Pearl street (or one of the other places in the area where you might find street folks of various flavors) and hand out leftover cookies (which, as a somewhat-obnoxiously born-again vegeterian/health nut, she'd accompany with a lecture on nutrition...)

But no, those cookies are destined for the trash heap. If she wants to take them, she'll have to pay for them. Because the company policy of "you must throw the cookies away" is based on the assumption that Employees are Bad. They cannot be trusted. If they're allowed to take leftover cookies home--so goes the company's conventional wisdom--you just KNOW what they'll do--they'll get closer to the end of the night and then go on a baking binge to generate as many leftover cookies as possible.

But hmmmm... if that's the worst that can happen... could it possibly be worth the bad will it creates between employees and The Management? And while it doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that treating employees this way is NOT the path to stellar customer service (let alone something like passionate users), I'm stunned that this kind of management practice still happens.

Let's say the cost of the "extra" cookie dough produced by the highly immoral college student with the cookie fetish is, oh, $60.00 per month. This adds up, sure. But what about the cost of the policy aimed to prevent it? Skyler couldn't wait to find another job, in large part because of this attitude of distrust. The cost of employee turnover probably averages in the hundreds of dollars per month, and it's no stretch to assume that the less you trust your employees, the higher the employee turnover.

So the company LOSES money on the policy because what they save in cookie dough they lose in the costs associated with poor employee retention.

And we haven't even touched on whether this ripples through to actual cookie revenue in the store. Do employees who aren't trusted behave as nicely to the customers as those who ARE trusted? Perhaps it's subtle--after all, Skyler isn't going to be rude to people regardless of the company's policies. But still... that little drain on her personal enthusiasm while at work infuses everything she does, and that includes every interaction with customers.

Of course, most of us are not entry-level employees at a fast-food mall store, but it's amazing how this attitude of mistrust exists in other companies for even the high-paid individual contributors from software developers to designers. Even if the company doesn't have these kinds of "we don't trust you" policies, their lack of trust still shows. Managers who question everything you do...who don't believe you're capable of working outside the strict procedures and rules set down by Those Who Know All Things And Make The Important Decisions.

I'm continually surprised by companies that hire someone for, say, a $100K a year position, and then treat them like they might do or say the wrong thing at any moment. They aren't allowed to talk to the press. They aren't allowed to blog. They aren't allowed to make critical decisions about the customers. They aren't allowed to do what they THOUGHT they were hired to do!

Every contemporary management book and philosophy (and just about every manager) says that the key to successful management is: "Hire good people and then get out of their way." But how many companies or individual managers actually do that?

The footnote to Skyler's story is that she worked at Mrs. Fields only until the nanosecond that she found another job, which she did, at the Boulder Einstein's Bagels. And when I drop in for a latte or a bagel, I watch her in action interacting with the line of customers (the place is BUSY) and I notice the change. She's always nice, but there's something more. I now see in her the way people act when they know they're trusted and respected, and I swear the customers can feel it. And if even 2% of those customers decide to come back again that week simply because they had such a pleasant, energetic encounter with the bagel clerk...

[FYI: I've been out of commission for the last ten days, but I'm back : ) Sorry about the missing blogs... and Beth couldn't jump in because Beth and Eric are in the midst of physically driving/moving from Santa Fe back to Bainbridge Island in Washinton. If you've emailed me in the last week, I'm still trying to catch up. Thanks for participating while we've been gone!]

Posted by Kathy on May 23, 2005 | Permalink


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» In employees we trust. from larry borsato
Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users (she always had the coolest graphics) spouts off about the difference between companies that treat their employees like criminals and those that trust them:I'm continually surprised by companies that hire someo... [Read More]

Tracked on May 23, 2005 4:44:13 PM

» Morale sapper from Johnnie Moore's Weblog
Kathy Sierra comments on this morale-sapping policy at Mrs Fields Cookies:Employees must throw away ALL unpurchased cookies at the end of the night. Employees are expressly forbidden from taking leftover cookies home.... [Read More]

Tracked on May 24, 2005 2:12:03 AM

» Better ideas at work from think again, ideascape moves people to action

Management’s role in passionate users Posted by Kathy Sierra -headrushh. Kathy has a great post about absurd management policies that [Read More]

Tracked on May 24, 2005 9:55:33 AM

» Better ideas at work from think again, ideascape moves people to action

Management’s role in passionate users Posted by Kathy Sierra -headrushh. Kathy has a great post about absurd management policies that [Read More]

Tracked on May 24, 2005 11:10:21 AM

» Successful technology. from larry borsato
I was reading Furdlog and thinking about Microsoft's inclusion of DRM in Office 12, and I noticed this:[...] Gartner's Austin tried to make the case that, despite the recent shift to increased regulation, the ultimate trend in technology will be... [Read More]

Tracked on May 24, 2005 12:22:38 PM

» Trusting Employees from NoahBrier.com
Just read a great entry over at Creating Passionate Users all about trusting your employee... [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2005 11:23:18 AM

» It's all in the jeans... from ?ic @TomorrowToday.biz
The other day an email went round my company saying that "Casual Friday" was now being cancelled and that no one would be allowed to wear jeans anymore. "Casual Friday" was a privilege (for which employees were asked to donate $1 to charity) and i... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 3, 2005 6:56:31 AM


Glad to have you back!

Posted by: Keith Handy | May 23, 2005 7:26:10 PM

I think this is a really good point. I can think of all kinds of corporate examples - snooping on email & web browsing, the age old combined vacation sick time debate, keeping the priceless Bic pens and legal pads under lock and key.

But I also think that showing users that you trust them can be equally, if not more, powerful - although it can be a little more risky. If I may, a story...

Many years ago my family and I went into a small local Mexican restaurant for dinner - one we had not been in before. We were met at the door by the owner, Gary. I asked if they took debit/credit cards. To my suprise, they didn't take any form of plastic. But the owner immediately extended me personal credit. "You can mail us a check or pay us the next time you come in." he said.

Wow. Talk about powerful. We ate there every other week or so for a couple of years until we moved away. I 've also told the story to everyone who'd listen. And I made it a point to eat there anytime I was in the area after we moved.

To my dismay, the owner Gary has since retired. I know because I was near by a few weeks ago and I went out of my way to go to his restaurant.

Posted by: Matt G | May 23, 2005 10:41:19 PM

By contrast with Mrs Fields, Benjy's in London is a sandwich shop that makes good, basic sandwiches - nothing fancy, just good and cheap. At the end of the day, they distribute the left-over sandwiches to the local homeless people. When I lived in London I'd make a point of buying there rather than from (for example) Pret a Manger because of this.

Posted by: Matt Moran | May 24, 2005 12:38:04 AM

Well maybe (and I'm just guessing) Mrs. Fields doesn't like the idea of her stale unsold cookies being distributed to the homeless, and Pret a Manger don't like the idea of stale food with their brand on it being given away. It's bad for the brand. And nothing to do with trust. Many of these fast sandwich places shred their stale counter items every hour or so and replace with fresh. It's called keeping up the standards.

Posted by: Wally | May 24, 2005 5:19:43 AM

While I don't doubt the mistrust of employees, I do doubt that had much to do with the decision to throw away leftover cookies. As Wally pointed out, there's the diminished brand issue, and also potential legal issues when some employee leaves the cookies in unsanitary conditions and then gives them away to someone who gets sick. An argument could be made (albeit wrongly) that because no purchase was made, the cookies were still property of the store, which is therefore responsible for a lawsuit and/or health code violations. Given the cost of lawyers, I suspect the monetary dough was more a concern than the cookie dough. There are of course companies that do give away leftover food, but I doubt many do so without weighing the consequences.

Posted by: Scott Reynen | May 24, 2005 6:30:31 AM

My favorite example of this: A major corporation with a huge IT staff (well in the hundreds). The developers are NOT allowed to have 'admin' rights to their local machines. Because we can develop mission-critical applications, but cannot be trusted with our own machines.

Posted by: Joe | May 24, 2005 8:57:54 AM

Howdy all, Matt, that's a great story : )

Wally and Scott, that's definitely a valid reason for the company doing something like this... but in this case, her manager explicitly *said* that the policy was to prevent the employee from baking up too many cookies at the end of the night just so that the employee could take more with them. The "we don't trust you" was made perfectly clear.
And they were quite happy if Skyler wanted to *buy* the cookies and hand them out all night long. Ironically, that almost makes me want to give them points for honesty. They *could* have used the "protecting the brand" as an excuse, because it would make sense, but they didn't bother. For all I know, this actually *is* the real reason from a corporate perspective, but was never communicated correctly down to the individual store managers. Which would mean they're *stupid* rather than untrusting. ; )

Joe: I feel your pain! I can't comprehend how much time I lost at [large computer company] waiting for someone with full privileges to come do the tiniest thing for me.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | May 24, 2005 11:20:51 PM

sorry Matt, but according to Pret's website they do give their unsold sandwiches to charity if they can:
I now live in Canada and miss Pret a Manger so much.

Posted by: Fraser Campbell | May 25, 2005 12:30:29 PM

Fraser - that's great to hear. Back in 2000 or so when i was still in London Benjy's were literally the only sandwich pace to do that there. If Pret have changed policy, that's really excellent. Good for them! :-)

Posted by: Matt Moran | May 25, 2005 6:37:10 PM

I have never heard of such an insane thing in all my life - that the policy is throw the cookies away. What are they thinking? I wonder how many times Mrs. Field's CEO's mother sent him/her to bed without cookies??

Posted by: regina | May 26, 2005 9:32:22 AM

So far you've covered "Don't Treat Your Employees Like Criminals", but is that all that can be done to create "passionate" employees? Here are a few more things I can think of.

- Pay your employees a liveable wage
- Make sure each one of them has adequate health
- Strive to have less employees and more small business

Okay, I expect people to scoff at those suggestions as impractical/impossible. But this is a blog about passion, so we're free to dream.

Does your friend have to work long hours just to make ends meet? Would she be happier behind the counter if she had adequate time to rest and pursue outside interests? What if she didn't have to worry about paying her bills? What if she felt she could always find work that would provide adequate funds to keep her alive and well? I think she would be waaay happier. I think we don't recognize this because almost everybody in our society is working miserable jobs.

I recommend a book titled "Working Poor" for a good look at this subject.

And the biggest one: what if she wasn't just a stinking employee but the actual owner of her own business? The story of the Mexican restaurant owner above is a testament to how much pride and joy spills out of someone who has control over their own destiny. I frequent a local bakery where the owner, Mike, has taken the time to personally know his customers. He walks up to my table and asks if he can refill my coffee. He asks about my work, my life, my day. He radiates a sense of satisfaction and joy like I've never seen. It makes me think "How can one guy be so darn happy serving coffee and pastries all day?"

I feel like your post was targeted at bosses/owners and told them how to make their employees happier. Your solutions all fall into one (brilliant) category: give your employees autonomy. In other words, break down the power structure of owner/worker, master/slave. Very wise stuff. Too bad it's so rare in our culture.

Posted by: Kevin Audleman | May 26, 2005 2:49:43 PM

Another sad thing about this story is that the people that these places hire (young people in their first or second job putting themselves through college or whatever) are at that impressionable age when they are learning the ropes. The ropes that they learn at Mrs. Fields is clearly not the lessons we want to be teaching our young people. A general attitude of mistrust and, I think fear, of young people just leads to problems down the road.

Glad to hear Skyler found a better job :-) And I'll be boycotting Mrs. Fields from now on. Not that I buy cookies there anyway, but you know what I mean.

Posted by: Beth | May 27, 2005 5:42:20 PM

I worked at Wendy's in high school - and it was the same scenario - an unexplainable management obsession with employees not eating the food. (We even had to pay for our dinners at work - but we did get a 50% discount. But still!)

Ironically, management obsession with no free food made me (and many others) want food that if they would have offered to us free of charge we never would have wanted. It became a workshift challenge to see who could eat the most French fries without getting caught.

Forbidden french fries are always sweeter, after all.

Posted by: Shawn Lea | May 28, 2005 4:45:40 PM

Shawn's right - if Mrs. Fields let employees take cookies home, they'd probably all take a million cookies home the first week and then they'd get SO SICK OF THE COOKIES they'd probably never eat another one.

Shall we all call up Mrs. Fields and tell her she's just wrong? :-)

Posted by: Beth | May 30, 2005 3:52:38 PM

Beth - that's pretty much how it works for workers at Cadbury's chocolate factory in Bournville. What the workers take after the first week is negligible; it still happens, but it's a tiny amount.

Posted by: Matt Moran | May 30, 2005 4:53:44 PM

I worked at a Quiznos. We weren't allowed to give away the food because it made the company liable. Of course, we were supposed to toss old food, but we didn't! Haha, more liability!

Posted by: x | Jun 1, 2005 8:29:19 PM

From today's Times

Absolutely releavnt to this


you may have to sibscribe (free) to access this but i'll give you the headline as an incentive

June 07, 2005

This is the wrist tag that makes your time at work more productive - or turns you into a robot
By Christine Buckley, Industrial Editor

Posted by: john | Jun 7, 2005 3:45:10 PM

It may take me some time and therapy to recover from that cookie story! Yikes! That is just deplorable treatment of employees. Smart employers know that happy employees make a good impression on customers, which, in turn, causes repeat business.

Posted by: panasianbiz | Sep 9, 2006 4:02:57 PM

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