As a business advisor, one of the things I see most often as a drag to productivity and growth is employees who, despite their best efforts, can’t change things that they know are hurting the company. They want to grant deserving customers special concessions, or fix a broken process, but are convinced it may cost them their job, or find that no one above them seems to care.
Perhaps you remember as well when the norm in business was a no return policy, or one size fits all, or getting support meant waiting hours on the phone to reach an unhelpful and unhappy employee. If these still exist in your organization, they are huge red flags and you can be certain that you are losing your best employees as well as customers.
Yet every CEO I know believes that his team is motivated and empowered to make the business better for both customers and the company. I’ve spent many hours identifying the causes of this dichotomy, and working on specific steps to fix it. In that context, I found in a new book, “The Unstoppable Organization,” by Shawn Casemore, some good steps for every business owner:
- Schedule time for personal feedback from employees. Don’t assume that feedback filtered through your management chain is adequate. We have all heard how messages change, when passed up or down the line, even without any politics or personal agendas. You need to hear first-hand what is working well, and what is not delighting customers.
- Plan to redesign and realign employee teams every quarter. Market changes happen rapidly and regularly these days, requiring a realignment of skills, processes, and approaches to keep up. Don’t let your team get stuck in the “way we have always done things.” New perspectives are invigorating for the team, as well as for your customers.
- Provide multiple direct communications to every individual. Don’t assume that your priorities, challenges, and support needs will “trickle down” through the management chain. Use multiple and regular communication opportunities to amplify your message, including daily briefings, team updates, as well as management by walking around.
- Utilize technology and tools for collaboration and sharing. Things that are not measured cannot be managed. New and better technology is becoming available every day to present dashboards and metrics to show how well processes and empowerment are working, assess workload backlogs, and capture customer feedback and satisfaction.
- Identify team champions to drive initiatives and processes. Employees who have the respect of other team members, and have shown more motivation, are typically more effective than managers in driving new processes, and identifying areas that need tuning or change. Make sure these champions get your full attention, recognition, and support.
- Assure employee engagement and buy-in for each change. Buy-in starts by clearly listening and implementing ideas from the front lines, with full employee attribution, rather than implying management initiatives. Engagement is always enhanced with the right incentives, financial and recognition, as well as quick reaction to interim feedback.
I recognize that all of these steps go against the traditional business wisdom that growing successful businesses must define inflexible and fully documented customer processes for efficiency, automation, and lower cost. But the reality is that customer and employee expectations have changed, and your competitors have stepped up to the demands for positive experiences.
Of course, every successful business is about achieving the right balance between costs and returns, as well as keeping up with marketplace demands. So while you must continue to strive for repeatable processes, it’s time to recognize that your customers are now much more empowered, and you must do the same for your team.
It will make your organization unstoppable, more profitable, and you will certainly find the business to be a lot more fun.