Is it possible to get untrained, uninitiated, unconnected people to participate in your efforts to deliver value? Consider this example that caught me totally by surprise in a very unexpected moment.
In October, I had the chance of a lifetime to take a 12 day vacation in Italy with my three sisters and our spouses. During our trip, we rented a house for a week in the not-too-touristy city of Lucca. Since we wanted breakfast and some other meals at the house, we had to figure out how to shop for groceries in a new city, not speaking any Italian.
Our spouses voted 4-0 that the Ely kids should make the first run to the grocery store. Once there, speaking no Italian, my sisters and I started to find the cereal, fruit, eggs, milk and chocolate...necessities each. In proper sisterly fashion, they dispatched me to find a shopping cart.
I observed other shoppers had carts but I could not see where to get one of my own. Finally, I noticed a covered rack of perfectly ordered carts in the parking lot. I went out to get one. And boy was I surprised by what I found.
The neat row of carts were cleverly linked together. Looking around for some visual clues, I saw some drawings which showed a one Euro coin (about $1.50) as the "key" to release the cart from the one ahead of it. My sister Anne came out looking for me. She fortunately had the right coin and plunked it into the small plastic gizmo mounted on the handle of the cart.
She pushed the red coin holder into the housing, the chain dropped and the cart popped loose.
We didn't exactly start singing opera but felt a little smarter. We did our shopping, were pleased my oldest sister's credit card was multi-lingual, loaded the groceries into our car and then wondered just what we were supposed to do with the cart. Pushing it back to the still-neat row of carts, I reversed the process, inserting the chain from the next cart into the plastic gizmo. Pop, out came the coin. And I finally realized what was going on. I thought "Wow, what a cool system!"
Rather than the messy, spread-out, disorganized pockets of carts we see in most US groceries, this simple system provided an incentive for shoppers to return the cart. And when shoppers do it right, the use of the cart is free. I simply had to "loan" a coin to the store for the time it took me to shop.
Interestingly, during the course of the week's stay in Lucca, we made other trips to the store and observed another social dimension of this system. We saw several shoppers accept the help to load their groceries into their car. In return, the helper took the cart back to the rack and pocketed the coin; effectively a tip for the help.
I subsequently learned one discount grocer operating in America has the same system for their Aldi Foods shopping carts.
Why do I mention this? Because well-conceived systems with visual tools and simple economic incentives can eliminate a lot of wasted effort. And if it is possible to do this in a grocery store parking lot, how much more inside our companies?? We have a lot of room for creativity.
Updated: I learned, via a comment, I was wrong in my assumption Aldi was an American-based store. It is owned by a German company. My mistake.
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