How can you apply Getting Real-ish ideas inside a big company? Here’s an idea: Go rogue. Pick something and do it under the radar. Create something in a few weeks that normally takes a few months. Do something in a way that works better than the status quo (or shows the promise of working better), Then you won’t need to convince anyone with words — the results will speak for themselves.
Hot off my Axl vs. Frank analogy, let’s go for another music comparison: Imagine you’re the drummer in a band. If you ask the bandleader for permission to do something different, it starts a whole conversation that may result in an argument or your idea being shot down. But what if you just do what you think is best? What if you switch to the ride cymbal during the chorus or use brushes instead of sticks? If it sounds good, it sounds good. Everyone can agree on that.
That’s the approach you want to aim for. Take things out of the theoretical realm and put them into practice. Don’t waste time debating when you could be doing and trying instead.
Best Buy’s Blue Shirt Nation
Electronics retailing giant Best Buy offers one of the most innovative workplaces around. And much of it is because bold employees there decided to go rogue.
For example, Steve Bendt and Gary Koelling are the creators of Blue Shirt Nation (BSN), the massively successful online community for Best Buy employees. Within a year of creating the site, 20,000 (of Best Buy’s 150,000) employees had signed up. They meet there and share knowledge, best practices, ideas for improving the stores, and more.
And Bendt and Koelling did it all under the radar. They didn’t pitch it. They didn’t ask for permission. They just built it. Steve Bendt explains:
BSN started with an idea that we couldn’t get sponsored. When the site went live in June of ‘06, Gary had funded the whole thing on the QT. For the domain name and a year of hosting, it cost a hundred dollars. The software that built the site was free. There was one user, the administrator.
And the site is moderated by the community itself. There really hasn’t been much need for moderation though. Since the launch, BSN has only had to take down a total of three posts. Bendt says fears that executives might have had about letting employees speak openly never materialized:
The fear factor that so many executives seem to have with open forums did not materialize on Blue Shirt Nation. We put the responsibility on the community and said, “Listen, don’t be stupid and take care of each other.”
Words of wisdom there: “Listen, don’t be stupid and take care of each other.” Man, it’d be great to see more companies encourage employees to think that way.
Blue Shirt Nation isn’t the only time that Best Buy employees innovated by going rogue. The entire culture changed thanks to two other employees who used stealth practices to push the company toward a “results-only work environment” (ROWE).
Years ago, Best Buy was your typical “big and uptight” company. Workers had to get there early and stay late. They sometimes had to sign out for lunch and include their restaurant locations and ETAs. Some had to track their work in 15 minute intervals. Employees complained they were tired of working killer hours, not having a personal life, and dealing with unsustainable levels of stress.
Two people in HR, Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, realized things weren’t working and decided to experiment. So they met in private and came up with the idea of a ROWE that judges employee performance on output instead of hours. Then they dribbled it out slowly, under the radar in pilot trials.
It started in a few departments: No standard office hours. No schedules. No mandatory meetings. The covert guerrilla action soon began to spread virally and became a revolution within the company.
If the company had waited for a top down edict, it would never have happened. In fact, CEO Brad Anderson actually only learned all the details two years after it began transforming his company!
How did Best Buy employees overcome that classic executive fear: “What if we lose productivity?” By showing results. Chap Achen, who oversees online orders, came up with performance metrics that measured how many orders per hour his team was processing at different locations. Within a month, Achen could show the experiment was working. Offsite workers were processing 13-18% more than onsite ones. As time went on, the experiment proved to be an even bigger success – job satisfaction and retention were the highest in the division’s history. Who’s going to argue with that?
Results are similar throughout the company. Turnover has fallen drastically. Productivity is up an average 35% in departments that have switched to ROWE. And employee satisfaction is way up too.
Amazing what a difference a couple of rogue employees can make. If these guys can do it at a company as big as Best Buy, what can you get done at your workplace?