November 1, 2010
by Michael Kline
I talk with a lot of fellow business owners and managers about everything from sales trends to finding qualified help. I feel their joys and their pains, I understand the feelings only they can have; the feelings you can’t fully appreciate until you’ve been there. I also talk to a lot of employees because I learn things. It turns out there is much to be learned from the nice lady at the grocery store, agents at the insurance company, servers, cashiers, bank tellers, and middle managers of any industry. I learned that their attitude is often a result of the environment created by management. Management meanwhile, thinks labor just doesn’t care about their work. From the worker’s point of view, the employer doesn’t care much about the worker. Let’s see if we can find some middle ground.
We do not want a compromise – a compromise is when no one gets what they want. Rather, we want a solution that works for everyone. Generally speaking, I don’t think employers really want workers to work harder or longer than they do, or to work for less money or benefits, or to do anything disagreeable, so long as they get the desired results of the relationship. Meanwhile, employees I talk to, (and those surveyed in more sophisticated studies), value a pleasant work environment over money or other benefits. So, it seems like a simple solution – create a pleasant work environment, get more productivity and everyone is happy! I’m not so naïve as to think it’s that easy; it is not.
It is that simple, and we shouldn’t confuse simple with easy. This desired environment is possible however, and it’s far less expensive than the alternatives of high turnover or higher pay and benefits that won’t achieve the results anyway. Create a positive and pleasant environment where doing things well becomes a way of life and the higher productivity will allow you to provide higher pay and benefits -everyone wins. To make this happen, we need much more than we can cover in one article. We need goals and a sense of mission. We need personal buy-in from all the stakeholders. We need clearly defined roles and systems so everyone knows what they’re doing and why. No less important, but sometimes easier to establish, we need a customer service attitude that makes sense and we need a supervisory style that makes sense, which is why I’m covering these topics in my next two seminars. We need staff to be trained in these areas, and we need owners and experienced managers to do the training as well, if only to get focused and to create a new system for their team.
Next, we need a caring culture of respect, personal and professional growth and enrichment. Do you help your employees become better at their jobs and better at getting more out of life? Incentives sound great, but be careful you don’t confuse rewarding good behavior with giving preferential treatment to “pet” staff, while expecting the same results from everyone else. When you offer training, have regular productive meetings, personal development opportunities, etc., you get and keep the most productive staff.
Of course, you can’t just throw out a list of programs without actually being and living the whole package – it doesn’t work without complete integrity. If you are always honest and fair with your suppliers, customers and staff, you will get and keep better staff. Now, everyone thinks they are honest and fair, but I’ve learned that like humor and common sense, everyone thinks they have it! Some owners or managers won’t point out being under-charged by a vendor, but has a fit if they are over-charged. Is this unethical? What does that tell your employees they should do with their overage in the cash drawer? Some people think it is okay to inflate an insurance claim to cover their deductable, or take a little cash to avoid paying taxes; how many ways do you tell your staff (or your employer) you are at least to some degree, a cheat, a thief, a liar and a fraud while expecting them to treat you with respect and take care of you? To the degree we demonstrate integrity, fairness, honesty, work ethic, respect, etc. we can expect reciprocation from our staff or employer.
So how do we pull it all together; how do we create this magical environment where doing things well is just a way of life? You just start. There’s no single point of entry that’s necessarily best, just jump in and start. It’s a journey, after all, and a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I’ve created our current seminar series to be just one possible starting point, but mostly, I just want you to start.