Hurry Up And Wait – Are You Motivating Your Employees Incorrectly?

At a recent trip to one of my favorite stores Costco I came across an interesting problem that you might also have in your business. Their checkout cashiers were rated on three factors: 1) How quickly they scan 2) How many customers they scan in an hour [minimum of 50] 3) Percentage of products scanned vs. key entered [minimum 98% scanned]. How did I know? They had it posted at the end of the cash registers. I first read it and thought wow this would have been helpful if I could know which cashier was in each lane and the board was placed on the other side of checkout.

As I checked-out and walked to the exit. Costco has a final check where you hand your receipt to a person at the exit and they check to verify you don’t have too many items in your cart. The best I can tell is that it’s there to deter thefts. I didn’t walk very far until I was in another line waiting to be “checked-out” again by the receipt checker. How many places have you been where you have to wait in line to walk out of the business after you are done?

This made me think is Costco, along with most other employers, motivating their employees incorrectly? This is the classic silo approach to a problem where we want to manage by what is easier for the managers instead of by what makes most sense to the customer. If Costco had a metric like total wait time for the customer that would be a much more effective metric then scan times per employee. It may not motivate an employee to do anything more than be faster at scanning items. If they get good at their job then the lines go down during checkout but go up at the exit. Motivate your employees to find a way to have zero wait for the customer. Possible solutions include a flex model where you flex the number of people at the cash registers and the exit door.

This hits to the point that you measure what’s important. By measuring individual scan times you are sending the message that the customer is not #1 but instead you are motivating the employees to be better scanners. What about adding more value to the checkout process? What if the cashier were to tell the customer about some specials that they could purchase at checkout? What about ensuring the customer has little no wait before checkout and after checkout? What about giving employees latitude to experiment with new ideas like an express checkout lane? Motivate your employees to do what’s best for the customer and not what is easier to manage. Managing consistency and rate of scan is a concern and can be addressed by standard work and training. Motivating employees to do what’s right for the customer is a bit more difficult but will give your company an edge over others.