We often think about the principle of "go and see" applying to giant companies, where leadership and management is far removed from the front lines. But it applies to small companies, too -- as small as a single coffeehouse. In a NYTimes story about small business mentors, a coffee shop owner explains that It’s usually easier to find new savings than to lure new customers. I don't know anything about running a coffee shop, but I do know a great example of "go and see" when I read it:

“When I had three shops, I was paying a huge amount in garbage bags,” [Mr. Goodall] recalled. “It was $35 for a package of 100” — and he was going through four packages a week. “I thought, ‘How are we going through more than 50 bags a day?’ So I spent the day sitting here, watching. The first thing I noticed was, we were using the most heavy-duty, contractor-grade, carry-a-small-water-buffalo-grade bag. The second thing I noticed was, my baristas were double-bagging.”

Mr. Goodall’s manager explained that the old bags ripped when the baristas dragged them to the Dumpster. So Mr. Goodall instituted a no-dragging policy. To lighten the load and to avoid dragging, he said employees could change bags more often but had to use medium-grade bags only. The stores immediately went from four packages a week at $35 apiece to two packages at $25 — money that dropped directly to the bottom line.

Sure, you could carp about Mr. Goodall instituting a policy rather than having the staff come up with it. And perhaps he could have used some sort of wheeled cart to make the transportation easier. Who knows? We're not there to go and see.

But I do know that first-hand observation is an amazingly powerful tool, no matter the size of the organization. As Mr. Goodall says,

“I could pay myself $4,000 more a year because of that one decision.”