Riddell: When in doubt: Ask, listen then inform
Not Business As Usual
So how do you take a group of unique individuals, all with different personal and professional goals, and somehow come up with a program that raises the performance of all of them? Believe it or not, the most direct and effective approach is to simply ask them. It is in the art of asking, listening, and most importantly, informing, that both companies and their employees experience significant breakthroughs in their profitability and financial security.
So many owner/managers understand that a sincere approach in tapping into employee aspirations makes sense. The problem is they get themselves and their employees all justifiably excited about this inclusion only to have the entire process become one big downer — both for the owner and the employees.
What happens is that the initial communication of the process, the solicitation of “what they would like to see,” is often interpreted by the employee as a guarantor of remedial action. It falls apart for the owner/manager due to the perceived ludicrousness, as in just plain financial craziness, of some of the inputs. So the best intentions end up making a difficult situation even worse. Neither of these outcomes has to occur.
Large and small companies that design and implement employee-focused programs all exhibit three important qualities. First, they insist that employee participants are prepared by having some understanding of the financial situation of the firm. While many owners view company financial results as private, these companies have figured out certain financial indicators that do not jeopardize their requirement for privacy yet impart a fact based insight into employees’ current compensation program. An example of this might be dollars per employee or average dollars per hour in revenue. It matters not what the indicators are, what matters is that every participant in the discussion knows and understands these key indicators and is prepared to discuss how the aspiration could positively impact this indicator.
Second, they very conscientiously listen to and document and do not argue with any and all suggestions and inputs. There is no acceptance nor rejection of the input, but there is an allowance for a request for non-critical clarity. Every employee’s input has sincere value.
Finally, they all manage expectations from day one of announcement throughout the entire process. This simple communication, whether with five employees or 500 employees, is critical in having the program being viewed with any degree of integrity by the employee. As well as presenting what plans are being implemented and why, it is equally important to be prepared to inform what is not being implemented and why not. Again, the success of this informing aspect is understanding the tie in with financial results or metrics.
Now before everyone gets all set to make some s’mores and sing Koom Bye Ya’ll (Southern version), let us be realistic and recognize that this won’t work for every employee. Some just do not care, have no aspirations, and are basically just “making eight” until something better comes along. That’s fine, so don’t waste time with these folks. But the ones who do care, who do see their current employment as an important part of their future, these are the valuable ones, the ones who, properly led, can take any company to a new level of success.
Next column we’ll take a look at this thing called teamwork and how it can and cannot work in business.
Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.
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