What role do you think empowerment plays at l l bean


From a tiny mail-order company begun 100 years ago, L.L.Bean has grown into a well-known retail firm with net sales of over $1.5 billion a year. It encompasses 14 stores in 10 states, continues its ever-popular catalog, has a thriving online store, and sells some 20,000 high-quality items, including clothing for the whole family, accessories, outdoor and camping gear, and even luggage, linens, and furniture. Employees at L.L.Bean share a sense of purpose that closely reflects the values of the company's founders and managers, making them feel like they are part of a large family. Although its online store has grown enormously in popularity, the company continues to field a huge number of mail and telephone orders year-round, which puts employees in constant direct contact with customers. The company has a world-class training program, so employees' skills are not an issue.

In addition, employees' motivation brought the company to the top of BusinessWeek's list of companies with outstanding customer service. Why are they so motivated? "Our frontline employees are the face of L.L.Bean and the voice of L.L.Bean to our customers," says the company's vice president of e-commerce, "so they need to feel that they're supported in making the right decisions on behalf of the customer and the company." Describing the way many other firms require their telephone call center employees to bring in a supervisor to resolve customers' problems, the vice president explains why L.L.Bean does things differently.

"We expect that the person you talk to on the phone will make it right. Other places you have to say, ‘Let me talk to your supervisor,' and we really can't stand that. We look on elevated calls as a bad thing." Empowering employees to resolve customer problems on their own not only speeds the handling of calls and leaves L.L.Bean's customers more satisfied, it also increases employees' decision-making authority and the pride and satisfaction they feel in their work. The company offers annual bonuses and profit sharing for all year-round employees. However, as one company executive explained, the sense of ownership Bean employees feel in the company isn't founded on money.

"It's definitely not based on that kind of incentive. . . . We select employees based on their ability to feel that kind of ownership, based on their investment in delivering the right customer experience. . . . They have this sort of underlying sense of values that drives them to deliver and . . . act as if they are an owner of the company. I talk about that a lot with my frontline employees." Communication at the firm goes both ways. L.L.Bean employees also know they are empowered to speak up when they think a product or a business process can be improved. As one manager says, "They would be very clear to the chain of command that ‘this doesn't work, and you need to change it so that it better suits the customer.'"

Other ways in which L.L.Bean rewards its employees are the company-owned fitness centers, walking trails, and sporting camps for fishing, kayaking, and skiing that encourage everyone at the firm to stay healthy and active. Ergonomic workstations bring the company's commitment to its employees' well-being right to their desks. During his tenure as president, in fact, Leon Gorman defined the company's stakeholders as including not just customers, stockholders, vendors, communities, and the natural environment, but employees as well. Benefits, wages, discounts, and pensions are competitive, even generous. Some employees have worked for the company for as long as 30 years, and nearly 800 applicants turned out for 130 jobs created by the opening of a new L.L.Bean store in upstate New York. It all comes back to what Gorman calls the power of L.L.'s personality: "His personal charisma, based on down-home honesty, a true love for the outdoors, and a genuine enthusiasm for people inspired all who worked for him." In that respect, the founder's legacy is very much alive today


1. What role do you think empowerment plays at L.L.Bean?

2. Because the company's retail Web site has proven to be so successful, L.L.Bean recently announced the closing of one of its four call centers, but the 220 employees there will have the option to work at another site or telecommute. What net effect do you think closing of the call center will have on employee morale and motivation?

3. What else could L.L.Bean do to motivate its employees?

The response should include a reference list. Double-space, using Times New Roman 12 pnt font, one-inch margins, and APA style of writing and citations.

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