This post was originally posted on Michael Brito’s blog Britopian.

A few weeks ago, I presented the concept of social business at a conference in Orlando to a group of grocery retailers.  One retailer in particular told me that he had hired a team of Six Sigma experts to test and optimize new processes that will get customers through the checkout stands more quickly efficiently.  The problem they were facing was extreme growth and they did not have enough space to expand and build more checkout aisles. He also didn’t want to increase his overhead by hiring more cashiers.

This is a good problem to have.

The first question I asked was if the cashiers in store were a part of the decision-making process.  After all, they are the ones dealing with customers daily and are also active participants in the sales/check out process. Of course, many front-line employees tend to sit at the lower end of the organizational structure, meaning their perspectives and opinions are often overlooked.  But if you think about it, some of the best sources of customer research can come from employees who are the front lines of customer interaction – waiters, flight attendants, sales people and customer support staff.

He didn’t respond. But it got me thinking about all the untapped talent and creative thinkers that live behind the firewall that never get discovered because of leadership’s lack of trust.

But a true social business has to be built on trust not just words. When employees are given the opportunity to collaborate and work together, a multitude of very awesome business outcomes will surely follow:

  • An increase in employee morale and productivity
  • A faster, more efficient product development life-cycle
  • New ideas for existing product features, or even brand new product ideas
  • Optimizing existing processes or creating new ones

Employee innovation is smart business.  For one, it rallies the troops to work together towards a common goal. There is a sense of ownership and accountability when employees are actively involved in creating something together, as a team.  And, often times, it can give birth to new found motivation and excitement.  It also creates personal relationships between colleagues as well as executive management that might not have occurred otherwise outside of the day to day business operations.

One conclusion from the IBM Study that was released yesterday are that organizations are beginning to realize the power of tapping into employee innovation; and CEOs are creating more open and collaborative cultures—encouraging employees to connect, innovate, learn from each other and thrive in this fast paced business climate. Other key findings include that:

  • CEOs are changing the nature of work by adding a powerful dose of openness, transparency and employee empowerment to the command-and-control type organizational culture that has plagued business since the beginning of time.
  • Companies that outperform their peers are 30% more likely to identify openness - often characterized by a greater use of social media as a key enabler of collaboration and innovation – as a key influence within organization. Outperformers are embracing new models of working that tap into the collective intelligence of their employees and its networks to devise new ideas and solutions for increased profitability and growth.

And yes, after I read the IBM study, I sent it over to the grocery retailer.  Hopefully he read it.

Image credit: ReillyButler

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