No secret sauce - just focus on your employees
I wrote an article titled "360 Degrees of Loyalty." The article was about the various aspects of developing loyalty in business - internal, external and parallel.
The internal dimension that I spoke of was from the employee perspective. As a poor example, I referenced a line from "Ben Hur": "We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well - and live."
Some may appreciate and like the reference, others won't, but the message is simply that we can't expect great results without taking great care of our employees.
An excerpt from that blog: "I can tell you that there are many organizations out there that marginalize employee engagement. Any organization that isn't focused on this is missing the boat." No pun intended.
Several creative programs are out there from recognition to reward. Employee satisfaction surveys, forums and suggestion systems all help to gather the employee's voice and input. However, it's all for naught if no action is taken to optimize the working environment for your internal and most valuable resources. Isn't it better to have a highly trained, happy and motivated organization than the opposite? This can all be achieved - within reasonable limits - as long as you hold employee engagement as a key strategy.
A ton has been written about employee engagement and job satisfaction. This article is not so much about the textbook, but more about practical application.
No secret in the sauce - I once worked for a major consumer electronics support company that had several challenges - in earlier days, one of those challenges being employee satisfaction. Let's get to the results of our multi-year program, and then explain how we achieved those results - at least in part. The results were that we improved employee satisfaction every year for eight years straight, even through a recession and wage freezes. A noteworthy call out was their high faith in senior leadership.
OK, so how'd we do it? No secret sauce really, as much of what we did is commonly applied. The difference was that we created a strong working environment, beyond the fundamentals of job training, role definition, physical environment, competitive wages and benefits. I consider those foundational elements, but suggest that more is needed.
Setting the tone - As leaders, we need to encourage and demonstrate our true intentions of supporting employees within the senior team. Organizations will adapt to the philosophies of leadership so setting the tone is crucial.
Open communications - Employees will appreciate hearing from leadership. It's about regular communications on how the organization is doing. It may also be about walking the halls and speaking to people in a casual setting. Silence is not golden with respect to communicating with employees - of course, within reason, appropriateness and due confidentiality.
Employee engagement - People love to be part of the solution. Consider employee engagement teams. These groups represent the employees in their area and are another mechanism to harvest thoughts and ideas from your organization.
Ask for ideas - The classic "suggestion box" has been around forever, but really the concept is a powerful one. Whatever the process followed, ask your employees to make suggestions, while informing them that not all suggestions can be implemented for any number of business conditions or reasons. We deployed an online system called "suggestion central." Our system allowed employees to make recommendations virtually on any topic - posted guidelines were in effect. Yet having a system in place is only part of what's needed. Read on.
Execute appropriate ideas - It is almost guaranteed that great ideas will come from your employee base - via whatever system you use. It is essential that some of these recommendations are put into practice. With our system, the difference was that the senior leadership team met every Friday to review the recommendations. If practical, we assigned the action item for deployment, or if not, communicated back to the employee for the reasons why we couldn't take action. We established a 360- degree loop of communication from employee to leadership and back to employee.
Recognition and thanks - Motivation techniques will often identify that people like to feel appreciated and recognized for their contribution. Create an environment that does just that. Customer recognition, colleague recognition, contribution recognition, any form of "attaboy/girl." Don't forget to say, "Thanks." "Thanks for working so hard." "Thanks for having such a great attitude." "Thanks for representing our company so well."
The personal touch - Face time -meetings/greetings - between employees and leadership helps to build needed relationships. Birthday celebrations, anniversary lunches and walking around with casual greetings are all great ways to tear down perceived barriers and inject the human element.
Share the joy- Let your employee base know about all the good things that are happening, letting them know of the various good things that are being done with your team. It actually acts as motivation technique.
Have a little fun - Yes, business is a serious issue and every employee needs to realize the importance of a serious, mindful attitude toward organizational success. But along the way, you might want to consider creating an environment that people look forward to working in.
Straight talk - Open communications - at whatever level is appropriate for you - is important. It's not all happy talk though. Sometimes some straight talk is required due to business conditions. I've had to send out notes about no company events, pay freezes and other tough medicine. However, the flip side is to discuss the "why." "The reason we're doing this is to tighten our belt, avoid layoffs and strengthen our base." These are all examples.
Through our national recession, there were things we had to cut back on for these reasons. Yet, we didn't lay off a single employee either. Trust me when I say that employees will appreciate the things you do to preserve the employment and security. It's not a ploy. It's a reality and developing a sense of confidence is crucial.
So there are some ideas about focusing on employees. Ultimately, the bottom line - financially speaking - often dictates what we are allowed to invest in. I suggest that investing in your employees is one of the smarter investments you can make.
That company I mentioned experienced eight years of increasing customer satisfaction, eight years of No. 1 industry leadership customer ratings and eight years of outstanding financial results.
By the way, our attrition was also rock bottom for that type of work. Coincidence? I don't think so.
Dan G. Bell is principal at Consulting By DGB in Chesapeake and president and CEO of Mobile America. He previously was president at Canon Information Technology Services in Chesapeake and has worked for Apple Computer, US Robotics and 3Com. He can be reached by email at Info@consultingbydgb.com.
Dan G Bell