227,468 hours.

26 years (ish).

According to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, that’s roughly how long the average person spends sleeping in a lifetime—about 33% of life.*

That’s also the amount of time a mattress salesman might tell you it feels like at work each day, simply staring at a wall.

Except, hopefully, not from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That’s movin’ time so to speak, to a new college, a bigger house, moving to better snoozing. So, a few years ago, when Mattress Firm’s sales were truly pallid in that peak summer time, the CEO was definitely losing sleep.

“There were times you might walk into a store at 6 p.m., after it was open since ten in the morning, and the salesman would say ‘You’re the first person here today.’” Which Mark Olson, SVP of Encore Live, tells you isn’t really great for company morale.

When you have very few at bats and quite a lot of time between them, it’s hard to keep employees excited.… That’s when they called us.

Mark OlsonSVP of Encore Live

First, Mattress Firm’s CEO wanted to get in front of his employees as soon, and as frequently, as possible. With more than 3,000 stores scattered coast-to-coast, the common-sense answer was a jet. Fly in, shake some hands, slap some backs, out. But while that was convenient, would that be the most effective way to register any meaningful movement?

That’s when an idea started percolating to turn Mattress Firm’s annual conference, “BEDTalks,” into an honest-to-God, bus-loaded, concert-worthy, pump-up, nationwide road show. And I hate to spoil the punchline before the set-up, but what Mattress Firm got was an experience that spectacularly improved company culture and drove a dramatic turnaround in sales (just wait ‘til you read the numbers, so, yeah, please keep reading).

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In true rock star fashion, the executive team of Mattress Firm chartered a freshly wrapped bus for three weeks—living, working, eating, sleeping and visiting dozens of retail locations from the west coast to the east. As the bus rolled on, traveling through the night, the results were immediate and palpable, building anticipation as each next tour stop approached.

New city, new day, new motivation.

Employees would arrive at work in the morning, with the store turned into a concert stage and a DJ pumping up the volume. The C-level staff would spend hours in each location, making sales presentations, holding town hall discussions, listening to honest critique and feedback—even working on community service or field projects while always raising optimism. Then the execs would record personalized messages at the end of the day, forwarding them to tomorrow’s eager audience.

But the most important part of that last paragraph, right above, up there, is that the leadership team listened. They learned. And then led.

Conversations started to evolve about strategy and culture and about opportunities that couldn’t be manufactured jet-setting or on a standard conference call. It turned into a fantastic laboratory of external and internal experiences, brainstorming, motivation. Genuine moments of magic.

“One of the unanticipated outcomes with the leadership team on that 300-square-foot bus for 30 days straight,” Olson said, “was that at two in the morning when you can’t sleep you have this wonderful uninterrupted time—not in some conference room, thinking about ten other things—where you can focus when walking around some truck stop parking lot with co-leaders. The executives heard what employees were saying, and were able to discuss it, and make real, company-wide changes, often right on the spot.”

The retailer’s results were both measurable and significant: every market the BEDTalks On the Road tour rolled through outperformed unvisited markets.

Seeing is believing. It’s the difference. I believe the ‘ah-ha’ moment is only delivered through experience, the connection with customers or, more importantly, employees. I think it’s truly how we experience all meaningful moments in life.”

Mark OlsonSVP of Encore Live

Needless to say, there have been several more tours, thousands of miles traveled, always for roughly a full month. They’ve even nailed down some critical travel etiquette. Some dive in stomach-down to lower bunks, some have learned to climb like a kid on a playground to the upper levels. Everyone gets to go to a hotel for showers, but nobody stays there overnight. Cracker Barrel is fair game. And for crying out loud, in the hallways pass back-to-back in such close quarters.

But never forget the experience is priceless, especially when it comes to profits.

Far too often corporate executives fall asleep on the job, failing to connect with their most important asset. Sending impersonal internal emails, pocket folders stuffed with mind-blowing baloney, PDFs of bar charts and pie slices, PowerPoints that are truly pointless. So, perhaps you should contemplate a different approach to corporate culture and experience. Next time, consider taking the bus.

* In the spirit of building stronger global chi, Experiential Review would like to inform readers that it is a common misunderstanding that sleep is an inconsequential activity. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that sleeping is a crucial function, and the average adult needs 7 to 8 hours daily. So, find a good mattress. We know someone who can help.

Bruce Wilson

Author Bruce Wilson

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