Captain E.J. Smith said years before the Titanic’s maiden voyage, “I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” Success hinges on being decisive, nimble and willing to make constant course corrections. What worked last year maybe the same thing to cause your organization to sink this year. For those businesses who would like some advice I provide the following top-ten list.
1. Conduct a vampire extermination expedition. The beginning of the year is the best time to analyze your organization’s work processes. Determine what is wasteful and what is productive. Eliminate what is causing people not to perform at their best. Exterminate the “vampires” sucking money and resources from the bottom-line. You are better off bringing someone in from outside the organization to do this—an expert. Outsiders bring an unbiased approach and a different perspective to your business.
2. Build a high-retention workplace. High retention begins the first day on the job. Put extra effort in your employee orientation programs and build a bond with new hires. A major factor causing workers to stay beyond 90 days in good part depends on how they were treated the first two days on the job. Managers should meet with new workers during the first week and conduct a new hire survey approximately 30 days after they have been on board. The survey will help identify differences in what the employee was expecting versus what the actual job entails. Management should help resolve the differences and identify the disappointments that could stimulate a premature departure.
3. Don’t work for a jerk. For those of you who watch the television show, ER saw Dr. Peter Benton quit his job. The reason he quit—his boss was a jerk. The fact is that good people will quit bad bosses. In a survey we conducted showed 35% of the respondents had quit their last job because of their immediate supervisor. La Rosa’s Pizza Company is a national chain of 53 outlets consisting of 3000 employees. At La Rosa’s employees get to evaluate their bosses using a bottom-up Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) twice a year. After the CSI is completed the CEO has the managers come to a meeting to discuss and resolve issues affecting employees.
4. Create an appreciation program. Reward and recognition programs are fine, but what people really want is appreciation. A survey I conducted for my book, Here Today, Here Tomorrow showed when asked, What causes you the greatest dissatisfaction at work, the answer with the most responses was Lack of appreciation. Setting up a program to make people feel appreciated is not difficult. An well-administered program builds camaraderie, values, and makes people feel good about themselves and their jobs.
5. Create a motivating work environment. A good organization is one that creates a motivating work environment. Be careful not to assume what motivates your people. In one organization, management was absolutely certain employees would select cash as its preferred form of recognition. Turned out, money didn’t matter, but parking did. While executives and certain top employees could park in the lot next to the building, most employees had to park several blocks away. With this information in hand, a very effective reward program was built which allowed select employees to use the executive parking lot.
6. Take family issues seriously. Most organizations don’t realize the impact of family-friendly benefits have on productivity and retention. First Tennessee National Corp. started taking family issues seriously and made them top priority. They reshaped the rules they had forced employees to live under, added many family-friendly new benefits, and sent managers through 3-1/2 days of training. The training included how to coach, communicate and counsel employees. Part of the training also included sensitizing them on the cost of turnover and what are the primary reasons people quit their jobs. Employees stayed twice as long—and the bank kept 7 percent more of its customers. Aetna Life & Casualty Co. reduced resignations of new mothers by 50 percent by extending its unpaid parental leave policy to six months, saving the company $1 million a year in training, recruiting and hiring expenses.
7. Put a parachute on your back. Can you imagine parachuting out of an airplane with no training? Many times, the first expense eliminated during a bad economy is training and development. Organizations that invest in training will come out far ahead than those who don’t. In a study of more than 3,100 U.S. workplaces, the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce (EQW) found that on average, a 10 percent increase in workforce education level led to an 8.6 percent gain in total productivity. On the other hand, a 10 percent increase in new equipment expenditures only increased productivity by 3.4%.
8. Use bottom-up involvement for high performance. Studies show that having workers involved at all levels has a major impact on improving productivity, morale and motivation. A good example is Guardian Industries, an 800-person glass plant in Indiana. They decided to start listening to their employees to find out their opinion on how to staff the plant’s 24-hr work shifts. The employees decided instead of working rotating day and evening shifts, they would rather work permanent 12 hour shifts. The result–turnover fell by 50%.
9. Take a laxative for “mental-constipation.” Many organizations suffer from what might be called mental-constipation or the “We’ve never done it that way before” syndrome. Rubbermaid is one of the most innovative companies in the world. They generate hundreds of new products a year-almost one new product a day. Products from the most recent years contribute to 33% of their sales. For example, in order to stimulate new product ideas, they sent people to an Egyptian museum to study ancient food preparation items. All people, no matter their position, should be looking for new ideas to improve profits and productivity.
10. “Don’t answer the phone it might be a customer.” People in the U.S. have lowered their standards and accept lousy customer service as the norm. Many businesses have designed and blindly placed impenetrable voice mail and automated phone systems in the way of good customer service. The reason for all the “voice-mail hell” is organizations ignorantly think it is less expensive than paying a person to answer the phone–they are wrong. What it does create is a huge demilitarized zone between the organization and their customers. Furthermore, creating the appearance of a cold and indifferent organization alienating, frustrating and driving customers and their money in search of a more approachable source of satisfaction. Nothing beats a real, old-fashioned, friendly human being on the other end of a telephone.