A Lesson in Choices by Panera

I just read a wonderful news article about the Panera Cares Café. Here is how it works:  after a customer places an order, the café clerk tells the customer the suggested price of the meal; the customer can pay that price, pay more, pay less, or pay nothing at all.  If you can’t afford to pay any amount, Panera asks that you take only one meal daily at the Café.  If you show up several times a week and pay nothing, Panera asks that you volunteer to help the staff.  What occurs daily as the result of the Panera Cares Café model demonstrates some powerful realities applicable to any aspect of your life as well as to the success of any organization.

When given the opportunity, people will usually do the right thing.

Panera CEO Ron Shaich spent many months observing in person how charitable food banks operate before concluding that the viability of the Café would be determined by whether customers adhered to the message on a sign by the cash register at Panera: “Take what you need, leave your fair share.” As it stands, about 60% of the customers leave the suggested amount, 20% leave more, and 20% leave less or pay nothing. When offered the opportunity, most of us will do that which allows society to exist, to flourish, and when necessary to heal itself. But there is a stronger underlying message here:

A stark difference in individual conduct appears between these two situations—when an individual’s expected behavior is circumscribed by rules, and when an individual is granted the freedom to act in accordance with his or her internalized teachings and moral underpinnings.

Here is a pop quiz: which is the only amendment to the Constitution that was subsequently repealed? Sure, it was the 18th Amendment that in 1919 ushered in Prohibition. Fourteen years later it was repealed by the 21st Amendment. The term “prohibition” itself shows the difference between the 19th Amendment and all else contained in the Constitution.  How so?

The 19th Amendment is the only clause in the Constitution that “prohibits” or prevents Americans from taking a specific course of action.  At its heart, the Constitution doesn’t set up rules as to what citizens can do and cannot do; instead, the Constitution grants rights, entitlements, and privileges!  Surely rules, laws, and statutes are necessary to bring civil order to certain aspects of societal and organizational behavior–to set forth expectations.  But whenever possible, humans act more in keeping with societal and organizational goals and aspirations when they are given or permitted the freedom to chart a course to the desired result. It’s how we are wired.  We want to make things work for all of us so that each of us as an individual is ensured survival.

My friends, we have all come upon or possibly worked in companies (or lived in families!) that required a healthy dose of adult supervision. In my experience that need arises when individuals are not treated as being responsible adults or when individuals themselves are insecure about whether they are responsible adults. That is why “command-and-control organizations” often become infirmed, then go on to fail.

Great leaders, on the other hand, give people the latitude and responsibility to decide how to reach a specific goal or objective.  They understand that when individuals don’t own their work product, and when they are not free to feel and express an owner’s mindset, they also are robbed of the pride and dignity that is part and parcel of authentically personal achievements.

So remember, when possible don’t lay down rules, give people choices. Panera does just that in its transformational goal/mission of allowing our inherent generosity, and that of our neighbors, to flower.  No pun intended.

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About Santo Costa

Sandy Costa is an internationally respected speaker and business leader. Check out Sandy’s website at www.SantoCosta.com
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