Do You Encourage Flexibility and Gut?

When The Container Store was building their business in 1978, founders Garrett Boone and Kip Tindell wanted to encourage their employees to go the extra mile, to bend over backwards for customers and each other. They decided to shorthand this intent by asking everyone to focus on “Being Gumby.” A dark green clay figure who came alive through stop-motion animation, Gumby was the star of “The Gumby Show,” which ran over a 35-year period on American television. Gumby was always getting into some predicament, which he managed to get out of with grace. Not so different from working retail. Makes sense that “Be Gumby” is a favorite mantra.

Customers Can Spot a Fake Culture

Plenty of companies tout their customer service and commitment, but many are “lip service” cultures: all talk, no action. Boone and Tindell wanted to ensure they didn’t deliver forced customer “service,” defined by rule books and execution of required tasks. The Container Store frees workers to trust their judgment and solve customers’ problems. But the company also puts the staff in a position to succeed.

A full-time salesperson at The Container Store receives about 263 hours of training, compared to an average of 8 hours for most retail businesses. By preparing people through training and throwing away the rule book, the company wanted to create an environment where people are encouraged to do whatever it takes to assist coworkers and customers. They simply want everyone to be flexible and find the right solution for each situation.

Simply put: Be flexible; “Be Gumby.”

Flexible Employees = Employees Who Stick Around

At The Container Store, employees feel uninhibited to connect with customers and coworkers in an uncommonly warm and genuine fashion. It’s a place where, on a new store’s grand opening day, the chairman pushes the new store manager around on a “victory lap.” “Just because we have titles doesn’t mean we can’t still be corny,” said Kip Tindell.

Corny works for them. This is a company where “I’m being Gumby today” defines success. With less than 10 percent voluntary turnover, compared to an average 50 percent or higher in retail, this is a company where employees want to stay. They’ve had a place on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list for 12 years in a row.

Encourage Flexibility and Gut

The Container Store’s mantra, “Be Gumby” is their whimsical way of saying to all employees, “Do what it takes.” It gives everyone permission to find the right solution for each situation–to put their humanity into it.

  • Do you give customers a positive view of how your front line is encouraged to do what’s right, to work together, and to serve customers?
  • Are your people encouraged to cross boundaries and work together?
  • How would you rate your ability to encourage flexibility and teamwork?
  • Do customers rave about how you bend over backwards to serve them today (no matter whose “job” it is)?
  • Do your decisions to encourage your front line to do what’s right to serve customers earn you “beloved” status today?
  • Can you come up with one way to get rid of the practice of “You do this, I do that” on the front lines and behind the scenes? (Especially when it ends up hurting customers who just want to be noticed, served and cared for.)

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