K-Cups and Employee Trust

I first came across Keurig coffee pods years ago when the sales rep pitched our CFO on employee pilferage and our office manager on cleanup.  What a slam dunk.

It's good coffee, but sell it that way rather than reducing employee pilferage
It’s good coffee, but sell it that way rather than reducing employee pilferage

Even when calculating the cost of the pods running as high as 50 cents each, throwing in the machine was a no-brainer.  Give away the razor and sell the blades works almost a century after the fact.   And like those Gillette razors I scrape my face with, the K-cups were pricey relative to the substitutes in the market. That sales pitch is shot now.  Nearly everyone I know who has more than one coffee drinker in a house has bought or is considering buying a Keurig or Senseo.   Yes, real coffee snobs, I know you grind your own beans and use distilled water for each pot.  I didn’t mean to insult you.  Keep reading because there is a lesson here for you too.

The pilferage pitch worked in part because we had people walking out with plants or a ream of paper or a roll of paper towels.  We employed thieves.  Our response was the same as any company.  We locked things up, made it difficult to have access to the things people used in their daily work like pens and paper and other equipment.  I can’t count how many calculators we bought.   Then we tasked someone with running around and opening locked closets and cabinets when people needed equipment.

Office pilferage exists everywhere.  But when a company moves from a handful of employees where everyone knows everyone’s business to enough employees to mask pilferage, what should the response be? Restrictive, paternalistic policies may not be the answer.  Firing someone for walking out with a pen is silly.   But you would fire someone who walked out with a $25 case of coffee.  Or you should, and if you wouldn’t, now is a good time to ask yourself why.

Building a culture of honesty is a hard process.  The rewards can be monetary in terms of profit sharing, communicative and my wife’s favorite saying to our children when they were growing up:  “That’s not okay”.   Ultimately, time spent policing employees is a command-and-control leadership technique that’s easiest to implement and manage.  The rigidity stifles creativity, encourages office castes and stops the casual rule breakers. Workplaces need rules and consequences.  But no one should be able to sell a basic product like coffee on the premise that it uses a delivery system that was then in very few homes.  Think about your workplace today — everything from missing lunches to missing toner.  Then think about your team and how you can begin adapting a culture of honesty. Start with yourself.  If reports are “good enough”, if vendors are paid “just a little late”, if office politics are a way of life, today is a great day to declare a new era.   Start with yourself, work to your lieutenants and change your culture.   Because the real issue is not that your culture is spending more on time to lock up office supplies.  The real issue is the broken windows theory of what’s acceptable becoming commonplace and transferring to your partners, your employees and most importantly, to your customers.

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