Real learning is a part of the work, not apart from it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A 21st Century Workplace Vending Machine

Has there ever been a tool more loved or hated than the company vending machine?

It's simple right? Transparent box, centrally located, displaying a variety of convenience foods for those in need. Yet, it is often seen as a scourge; mocked as a tool of the devil ...leading people away from a healthy lifestyle.

Regardless of ridicule, the vending machine exists and no level of management even utters the idea of its removal. Heck, its much like email as its pretty much a given with no thought to its value.

Maybe execs see it as a perk for the employees or maybe there is actual revenue being generated? Maybe they see it as mutually beneficial - a short trip to an easily accessible sources of food results in keeping employees at their seats longer, in meetings longer; keeps them productive.

Well I say -Bravo management! They even had the forethought to make it centrally located. They recognized that it's not only important to get a snack, but to get a snack quickly; at the moment of need. When a formal sit down lunch is next to impossible, your choices are vending machine fare or a dried out donut around 6hrs old... I choose to vend.

People rail against the vending machine …but it doesn’t go away. Ours is visited often and it actually has much more than junk food. In my last visit I noticed granola, dry fruit, and seeds. mmmmm, healthy.

The great features are 1. that we have choice, it's updated weekly and 2. the contents are purely driven by supply and demand; i.e. if people are dropping quarters in for M&M's, the Vending Fairy's restock M&M's. But if folks selected healthier choices, the fairy's would respond in kind and slowly but surely the sweets would vanish.

Can you truly measure the value of the company vending machine? Do most organizations even bother?

If you were to determine ROI you'd be measuring the behavior changes that were exhibited by the employees who purchased, right? ... But what about the purchasers who then shared a bite or handful with a co-worker, thus increasing that person's stamina, happiness, productivity...etc?

Come to think of it, this simple, convenient, sustenance dispensing tool is no different than having informal knowledge dispensing systems in an organization. i.e. Social Media.

Yet many executives are not even considering SM for learning in the organization. Yet they likely placed a vending machine in unconsciously.

Oh sure some of what will be made available in a SM platform will be useless (think Twinkies for the mind). But if more and more demand the value adding material, more value adding material will appear (supply and demand right?).

The vending machine has healthy and unhealthy choices for sure…but choice none-the-less which really is employee-centric as they are trusted to make the best choices for themselves in fueling their bodies...why not extend this to what fuels their performance?

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