How Ed Stack gathers feedback at Dick’s Sporting Goods

You don’t often hear of companies developing a stupid list.

“That kind of gets people’s attention,” says Ed Stack, chairman and CEO, Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc.

A few years ago, Stack charged his store managers with sharing three things the sporting goods retailer does that makes no sense.

“It’s really simple,” Stack says. “Ask people for the things that you have them do that they view as doesn’t add value. We did it as a fun thing to do.”

The idea was part of an overarching theme of the importance of staying in touch with your business. It’s not enough to gauge how the business is doing by talking to employees and customers. You have to actually solicit their feedback. And one of the best ways to do that is by creating an interactive and engaging format.

At the end of 2009, Dick’s had 419 stores in 40 states as well as 91 Golf Galaxy stores in 31 states. All told, the company brought in $4.4 billion in revenue. Perhaps you, like Stack, can’t personally reach everyone to gather input. But you still need to solicit feedback in a way that portrays an accurate reflection of your business.

In order to do that, Stack asked his store managers to discuss the stupid list with their employees. Then, they submitted their three ideas via an e-mail created for the purpose.

“There was nothing off the table, they could put anything on that they wanted to,” Stack says.

Gathering the feedback is just half the battle. The second part is analyzing. When you’re gathering information from so many places, obviously you’re not going to be able to act on every decision.

“We looked at the 10 things that our associates indicated the most,” Stack says. “If somebody said, ‘This is a stupid thing,’ and we heard that 50 times and something else we saw was stupid but we got that three times, we went with the thing that we heard more.”

One of the issues Dick’s faced was it wasn’t monitoring its in-stock items for advertising as well as it needed to. Turned out, it was a computer system problem. A few adjustments were made and sales went up.

That was one problem with a fairly easy solution, but not every suggestion will be as easy to solve, nor will every suggestion be solvable. An important piece of asking employees for feedback is following up with them on your final decisions and explaining why.

Stack went back to his employees and spoke to them about what did and did not make it on the list and then an e-mail was sent to every store.

“We said, ‘This is what came up on the stupid list,’” he says. “‘This is what we’re going to do, [this is] why we’re going to make these changes, and these are some of the things that we can’t change, and why we can’t change them.’”

How to reach: Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc., (877) 846-9997 or

For more leadership advice from Ed Stack, he’ll be the keynote speaker at the 12th Annual Entrepreneur Growth Conference at Duquesne University on June 10. Also keep an eye on Smart Business Pittsburgh for a future cover interview with Stack on how to develop and maintain a vision.