Do Not Disturb ... Busy Learning

Meeting I Never Miss

M.I.N.M.: Continuous Improvement Meeting

Who: Frederic Holzberger, CEO, Aveda/Fredric's

Email: fholzberger@fredrics.com

Players: Everyone in the company's headquarters, from the receptionist to the CEO. About 80 people altogether.

Frequency: Thursdays, from 2 PM to 3 PM

Why I Never Miss It: "It's how we keep improving the service that we provide."

If you're going to call the folks at Aveda/Fredric's, don't do it on a Thursday afternoon: No one will answer. That's because everyone will be in the "education center," playing with crayons, drawing on the walls -- and figuring out how to improve service to customers.

As the sole distributor of Aveda products (cosmetics, perfumes, hair-care and skin-care products) to beauty salons in four states, Aveda/Fredric's spends a lot of time teaching customers about them. "About two-thirds of our products are sold by word of mouth," says Frederic Holzberger, 52, president and CEO of Aveda/Fredric's. "Stylists recommend our products to their customers, so educating those stylists is the heart of our business."

Every Thursday, the company shuts down for an hour to hold its Continuous Improvement Meeting. Whenever Aveda releases a new product, the lifestyle-education department at Aveda/Fredric's teaches the company's entire staff about that product: packaging options, features, benefits, part numbers. Then everyone tries it.

Aveda/Fredric's has its own version of a hair salon, complete with shampoo sinks and styling equipment. "We aim to provide salons with really great service fast," Holzberger explains. "And we want to continue to improve our service and our teaching."

Guiding Principle

Map your mind. "If you're in the business of teaching," Holzberger says, "then you want to find out how people learn before you try to convey information to them. Both the lifestyle educators and the people we deal with in salons are very creative. So we keep buckets of crayons and markers on tables in our education center. If people have ideas, they can doodle or draw."

Best Practice

Gallery stroll. "The best ideas come when people aren't intimidated and when thoughts flow freely," Holzberger says. "If we're brainstorming a particular topic, we hang pieces of flip-chart paper so that they cover the walls. We title each piece of paper with one subsection of the topic that we're working on. Then we form a bunch of smaller groups and write our ideas on the pieces of paper."

Pregame

Before the whole group gets together for the meeting, each division meets separately for about a half hour.

Talking Stick

"During premeetings," Holzberger says, "each division sits in a circle. Each has a facilitator who keeps that discussion on track. A talking stick can be a toy or a ball, and it's passed around. If you don't want to speak, you don't have to. You just pass the stick. But everyone knows that they'll have an opportunity to be heard."

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