By BRIAN BABCOCK
in the Globe and Mail, Feb. 7, 2003
Tell a Colleague About This Article
Almost every corporation
in North America claims to be a "people" company. But how
many actually treat their own people with dignity and respect?
Too often, management
has mounted the tiger of budget and control and is too afraid to get
off. The result: Employees are dispirited by unreasonable cost constraints,
paralyzing job descriptions and formal processes of reprimand.
How do people react
to this negative corporate climate? By creating a silent culture of
corporate goal destruction. For example, an employee speaks with polite
agreement but completes assignments with unreasonable delays. Or a group
has unnecessary glitches in a project but is always ready with plausible
is often subtle, usually obscure and always costly because the company
suffers lower productivity, high employee turnover, unhealthy absentee
rates and reduced levels of customer satisfaction and retention.
This doesn't have
to happen. Executives don't have to keep riding the tiger. Using better
listening skills and sensitivity, we can create a climate that will
encourage employees to align their personal objectives to company goals
and create a positive corporate culture. Simply distinguished, climate
is dictated by leaders' actions, procedures and rewards; culture is
determined by our employees and derived from climate.
Consider Joe, who
was the owner and president of a large enterprise that serviced much
of the United States. One branch was chronically short of service providers,
though Joe considered the branch manager to be competent and capable.
At one point, when
the manager was away for an extended leave, a head office executive
stood in for her.
To Joe's surprise,
the chronic shortage rectified itself with alarming speed. After careful
questioning, he learned that his manager was poorly suited to leading
Joe could have judged
this individual harshly, but instead, he chose to distinguish the person
from the deed.
He asked what her
dream job would be and learned that she'd always wanted to be an insurance
broker. He offered to pay her salary while she retrained and secured
her agreement to "allow" him to find a replacement for her.
She became content in her new work with another company and customer
service at the branch improved dramatically. Joe had identified the
When he told this
story, there was no hint of ridicule or criticism of his former manager.
He understood that he had failed a person whom he valued: He had misdirected
The key is to be
hard on the issues, but easy on your people.
Are there other
ways to accomplish this?
Take a look at the
messages you send through your budget process. Are eight months being
dedicated to a budget plan that could be completed in eight weeks? Is
the implementation of potentially fabulous employee ideas, ones with
long-term feasibility, being sidelined by short-term budget constraints?
Then it's time to dismount. The ability of you and your executive team
to strike a balance between fiscal control and other corporate goals
is a powerful tool in climate creation -- a tool that can be sharpened
even further by seeking employee feedback.
refine the matching of an employee's skills to their work and master
a balanced approach with budgets, are there more ways to enhance productivity?
As president of
our Ontario-based school bus company, I offered to reimburse employees
for continued learning. If the learning opportunity was a formal one,
then my only request was that the person should feel "a little"
frightened by the challenge. This guaranteed an employee's growth and
following that, their sense of self-worth. Self-worth became the invisible
bridge that helped nurture our company's internal success.
The positive climate
we developed created stronger and stronger bridges between previously
undetected silos of isolation. These are what Harvard professor and
author Bill Ury might call "golden bridges" of understanding.
Our operating norm was based on questioning, inventing and sometimes
simply having fun in the context of the work we performed.
But what about rewards?
I learned that financial
imperatives could best be served by prioritizing critical success factors.
These were things like creating value for customers, retaining service
providers, understanding and building teams, learning ways to invent
better processes, and so on.
As we set out to
create value for our customer and to retain people we began to give
monetary incentives for safe driving, low absenteeism and long tenure.
The rewards, nearly 15 per cent of a service person's pay, predictably
created the highest wage costs in the industry. But employees became
more dedicated, and the result was lower insurance costs. Surprisingly,
maintenance costs and capital replacement costs were lowered as well.
The long-term benefits?
Low turnover, low absenteeism, unheard-of customer loyalty, and, arguably,
the industry's highest earnings.
Here are some questions
to consider as you work toward increasing productivity:
Are you hard on
the potential crisis but soft with the people around it?
Do you respect people
from the heart?
Do you carry over
anger from other areas of your life and does that anger lead you to
be sarcastic, arrogant or to ridicule others?
Do you expect your
people to innovate?
Are you riding the
tiger of over-attention to budget and control?
Do you understand
what's critical to your long-term success and create incentives that
reward those critical successes?
Do you search for
feedback about your behaviour and climate formation?
In the end, if productivity
is simply defined as output over input, the answers to these questions
will determine your groups' overall yield.
The benefits of
a positive climate and a culture of corporate and personal goal alliance
will enhance and even transcend measurable dollar values.
Tell a Colleague About This Article