Inconsistent colors

I really like chocolate, so many days after lunch, I’ll stop by our local Lindt store and pick up a few pieces of chocolate for a sweet bite in the afternoon.  But there’s one thing that drives me crazy about Lindt… for years, they really didn’t offer much besides chocolate bars and their truffles.

When you bought a mixed bag of their truffles, you always knew what you were getting by the wrapper.  Brown are hazelnut, orange are peanut butter, red are milk chocolate and blue are dark chocolate.  For years, Lindt quietly and unconsciously trained us to associate certain colors with certain flavors.  Then, they introduced new lines of chocolate.

Suddenly you could buy small, individually wrapped chocolate squares, crisp caramel clusters, coffee flavored chocolates, tiny little chocolates that played on famous desserts like creme brulee and more.  They also introduced marzipan chocolates – one with a milk chocolate shell and the other with a dark chocolate shell.

Can you guess what color the milk chocolate marzipan candy was?  You’d think it ought to be red, right?  Well, no, it’s blue.  Why?  Who knows.  And the dark chocolate one?  Obviously, it’s red.  Years and years of training people that red = milk and blue = dark, and then you introduce a new chocolate where the only difference is the type of chocolate shell and you switch the wrapper color?

It seems like a little nothing, but every time I go into Lindt to get a chocolate – and I really like marzipan – I have to read the label to figure out which one I should be buying.  It constantly confuses me, and I don’t really like milk chocolate.

Now, at Lindt, are they really wasting much of my time?  No.  But what if you did this to your own employees?  What if you used a certain color scheme and then suddenly made it mean the opposite?  One thing I constantly read in articles from LEAN.org is that it’s these kinds of questions that get asked on Gemba walks.  Why are we inconsistent?  Why is this different or special?

Inconsistent colors may not seem like much, but it stands to confuse and slow down your business just ever so slightly.  It’s not the one time you do it, it’s all the little times that you do it in various places that slow everyone down.  It adds up.

2 thoughts on “Inconsistent colors”

  1. I enjoy your articles and its been a while since I commented,
    I find this interesting, not the fact that they changed colors on you, or us for that matter, but the fact that I would have thought someone with better than average change management skills, only a perception I have, would be able to deal with something like this much easier. Maybe just maybe, they have changed colors due to some financial gains that can be made by the switch. Maybe they are trying to market for more blue colored eaters, then switch it again. They may have a perfectly good reason for this, heck even if its because they can. Now it would have been nice if you would have gotten a call from them before they switched the colors, that way they could have gotten your opinion in the matter, and got your buy in. That would have been really cool actually!! But how on earth can you make everyone happy, if you did this to your employees, I’d bet, because i like to gamble, that some would strongly dislike it and others would strongly agree with the decision, while others would remain neutral. That seems like a standard rating system right? Sometimes the leaders and decision makers need to make the rules or changes and go with it. Think of the amount of time and money would have been spent/wasted to get everyones opinion–yeah I know they could have made up a free on line survey–but thats not the point—heck I cant even remember what the point was—
    Maybe thats why I like it when things change–usually from my standpoint I can see or understand why, even if I dont 100% agree with it, I can deal with it pretty easily. Maybe its the Deming in me. So for everyone reading this, think about yourself, do you embrace change–or do you ward it off just because you can.

  2. Indeed, it may be the case that Lindt has recognized some sort of financial advantage from this (what appears to me to be disjointed) color choice. That said, given how often I pop in for a chocolate, I’ve established a friendly relationship with one of the store managers. Based on our conversations I’m inclined to believe these choices are not nearly so thoughtful.

    In fact, this is a bit of a ridiculous example. A more practical example from my recent experience was a folder structure for a bunch of documents. Depending on the type of document, three different folder structures were proposed. Each folder structure had the same pieces (project name, application name, product line, etc.), but arranged in different orders depending on the person assigned to do the work. It’s this scenario that I suspect is at play at Lindt. Because there was no one person at Lindt making color choices for wrappers, each silo picked their own and arrived (for whatever reason) at a different result.

    I fully agree that not everyone’s opinion ought to be asked in making decisions (and when it comes to chocolate, I like it, but I’m no expert), but if we fail to give any attention to the norms we’ve established, we run the risk of creating confusion potentially without creating any long term advantage. By all means, if an advantage is there, then to heck with prior norms, but if not, well…

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