To cultivate, grow and respect your people.
Employees Are Exercising More Authority & Power. Decisions are made on the spot, rather than waiting for some manager who may not be available at the critical moment of customer need.
Someone Once Told Mother Theresa "You couldn’t pay me enough to do what you do." Her reply is worth noting.
hat is the most powerful promotional tool a merchant can use to get long term, lasting results on the bottom line?" This is a question I am often asked and loathe to answer.
My candid response often goes something like this: "The best way to affect a lasting impact on the bottom line is to cultivate and grow your people." This normally results in a blank stare and the follow-up question: "Yes, but what is your next most powerful promotion tool for long term results?" Why this reaction? Because furniture CEOs rarely understand that the most powerful asset at their disposal is their people.
Some Furniture big shots will protest: "Yeah, but my people are different. Oh the managers are fair, but not nearly as good as I would like them to be across the board, though, I just can’t get good people to deliver furniture, to answer phones, to work in the warehouse with any degree of excellence and pride. Nobody wants to work anymore. Especially the young people. They have no values, no respect." This same "tune" has been set to different music for 25 years from countless big outfits. Here is an interesting quote that is relevant to this discussion:
"Children these days are tyrants. They not only talk back to their parents, teachers and elders, but they expect every luxury, gobble their food, chatter incessantly and sneer at any attempt to control them."
Now, who do you think said that? It was Socrates in the 5th century, BC. The point is fairly obvious. People remain the same, but no one ever has figured out how to make them like to work. Did I say: "LIKE to work?" I did, and it has been written that if anyone (including you) finds something they like to do, they will never have to work another day in their life. Of course, one person’s work of pleasure is another’s torture. Someone once said to Mother Teresa, as she was caring for a disease-ravaged, filthy old man: "You couldn’t pay me enough to do what you do." Mother Teresa replied, "Me either."
I can’t profess to have mastered the problem of employee satisfaction, but would like to offer this observation. When a good, but struggling, company conducts a professionally run promotional sales program, something happens to the people. If the program is executed correctly, the CEO suddenly has the time to do things thoroughly. All the planning and technical stuff is done, so the boss can concentrate on preparing according to a step-by-step formula. He or she has meetings, and tells "the troops" about what is going on. People get a clear grasp of the mission, and understand their personal responsibilities. Everything is orchestrated, planned, and executed according to precise time lines.
Suddenly morale goes up. During the planning and preparation stages there is a new atmosphere of mutual respect and urgency. There is remarkably improved teamwork and awareness. Electricity fills the air. People work with a purpose and understanding of why they are doing certain things.
During the sale, the organization’s energy reaches a peak. Everyone is happy and excited. Once the sale is over, however, the wheels seem to come off. Lethargy returns. That is why it is necessary that the CEO plan something for after the sale to avoid post-sale blues. It is also true, that if the root cause of a lethargic culture is not dealt with, the humdrum performance of the staff returns.
That brings us to a discussion of why people under-perform most of the time. To what degree do most associates under-perform?
What I am going to propose is based upon the premise that there is a great deal more to the people who work for you than you are getting from them. How much more? Most people under-perform by a factor of ten.
There are a great many complicated theories that attempt to address this issue. This series of articles in FURNITURE WORLD (posted to the Marketing Management Index on www.furninfo.com) has covered the significance of having a Mission, and a Vision, and how valuable they are to a company. It has also discussed the importance of articulating a set of core values. These are techniques that can be used to achieve lasting improvement, but some CEOs and managers need a tool that can be used to start the improvement process rolling today. They need proof that someone is actually "home" inside their associates; someone important. Here is something of great value that will help. It’s one of those things that, even if you are doing it now, can always be taken to another, higher level.
First, read this story about a failing company. It is a tale about how under-performing people were transformed into persons of stature and excellence. This story illustrates the power of respect. Not just ordinary, ho-hum respect, but something I call golden-rule respect. It is an old story from an out-of-print book titled: “The Golden Rule in Business,” by Arthur Nash. It’s time we dusted it off and weighed its wisdom against some of the modern "fad-of-the-month" management gimmicks.
Arthur Nash acquired a Cincinnati clothing business in 1916, just as America was becoming involved in World War I. Times were tough, and Nash soon realized that in order to continue in the business he would have to persist in paying the grossly unfair "sweat shop" wages that had been established in the clothing industry. After much soul searching he elected to liquidate the business. Then he made another, more remarkable decision.
Nash decided to raise the pay of all his employees to reasonable levels for the short period of time that the business could stay afloat. In a meeting with the workers he announced his decision. The astounded employees were given increases from 20% to as much as 300%! As weeks passed Nash became aware that sales were increasing, but he lost interest in carefully monitoring the business. He believed his dream of financial independence was being eroded away as he paid wages far above his competitors. After a few months he decided to check his company's finances. To his astonishment he was making record profits. Sales and production were nearly three times the previous levels!
Nash investigated. He discovered that his workers had responded to their wage increases by making superlative efforts and dramatically improving their performance.
There is a great deal more to the story than can be related here. Briefly though, driven by his strong religious values, Nash also improved the working environment. He insisted that no overtime be worked, and that workers’ families be given priority over the business. He arrived at work before any of his employees, and usually stayed later.
Nash’s success continued in the face of a post-war business turndown. In 1920, clothing businesses and mills were closing down all over America; $100,000,000 in textile orders were canceled, yet Nash tripled his gross sales. By 1922 his company again doubled its volume! In his book, Nash urged his methods be adopted by all businesses, declaring that humanity must turn to higher values to survive.
A Modern Perspective
Today, the customer is king, not the employee. Everybody knows this. Read this excerpt from "Competing Against Time," by George Stalk, Jr. and Thomas M. Hout, a book praised by several esteemed Fortune 500 board chairmen:
"Management is faced with three choices when responding to demanding customers:
•Fight customers by making them accept standard performance, product or service.
•Insulate its organization from customers by building mounds of inventory and getting them to do a lot of their own work.
•Embrace them and make sure they are more satisfied with the service provided than they could have ever imagined."
However, someone has figured out that it is the employees who must carry the burden of exceeding customer expectations. A new philosophy of service is paraphrasing the Golden Rule into common buzzword clusters such as: "Treat all employees as you want them to treat our customers," and "Treat the next operation as the customer." (The next operation may mean the one down stream in the production line, or the next person to whom paperwork is given.)
The Flattening of the Pyramid
The trend to provide customers with faster and more satisfying service has forced organizational changes. Businesses and organizations are "flattening out" their structures. No longer is the ponderous, classic management pyramid of power sacred; it responds too slowly to fill the needs of customers. In more enlightened companies, employees are exercising much more authority and power. Decisions to satisfy a customer’s problem are made on the spot, rather than waiting for an authorization from some manager who may not be available at the critical moment of customer need.
The pyramid is flattening, and the customer is the boss. And who is in charge of pleasing that tough, demanding consumer of 2001? Yes, we generally delegate this difficult task to our employees. The moment of truth takes place when a customer visits your store. Each associate they meet should make a big effort to make them feel respected and important. And where are you going to get associates who will do the right thing every time, when no one is around to coach them? The premise of this article is that you can get them from your own organization if you are willing to treat them as you want them to treat your customers.
Face the fact that you have less power and direct control over your associates than any manager or CEO in history. Possessing less actual power, your new role is to empower, support, serve, and inspire team players. Exceed their expectations for respect, appreciation and consideration and they will respond to the challenge of exceeding customer expectations.
That’s it. Forget all the glitzy fad techniques for manipulating people. You have all the skills you need right now to install the new Golden Rule for CEOs and managers: Treat your associates as you would have them treat your customers. If you believe you are doing this now, it is likely you could improve your skills by a factor of ten. The concept of empowerment through self-respect enhancement is being adopted and urgently taught by leaders who are influential and respected in the business world. Note this comment from the pages of “Horizontal Management” by D. Keith Denton:
"There is only one thing that counts in business —building the self-respect of your employees. Nothing else matters, because what they feel about themselves is what they give to their customers."
That is the message: Respect for employees as your organization’s most valuable assets is the requisite step for modern management success.
Put this power to work in your business
Yes, there are some bad apples and some people who simply will not respond to enlightened management techniques. There are associates with too much self-esteem who need to be curbed and taken down a peg. But, there are vastly more people who need appreciation and respect - active respect. As a CEO or manager you are in an advantageous position to give respect. You are, in a sense, a wealthy person, rich in this commodity that all humans crave and rarely get to enjoy. Since your supply of respect is free and unlimited, and increases as you give it away, you can liberally bestow it upon associates, customers, and vendors. You can teach it to your managers and staff.
It is very difficult to change a company culture. But most company cultures are not negative, they are benign and boring. They need some fire to make them come alive. The truth is that people do not pay much attention to leaders who sound what the prophets have called an "uncertain trumpet." They want to be committed to a meaningful mission, and challenged by an extravagant vision. They want their leaders to dare to articulate the company’s core values and live up to them. Your associates will respond to you if you have established bonds of mutual respect. If you want to get an idea of the power "new" management ideas can generate, set this philosophy into motion today. Teach it and model it. Demand it. Authentic, active respect is a silver bullet, it never misses. It is one of the most powerful forces ever seen at retail and its effect on the bottom line can be remarkable. And the leaders who live and teach respect are the most aggressive, progressive, and successful businesspeople on earth.
Larry Mullins, President of UltraSales, Inc., has 30+ years experience in the front lines of retail furniture marketing. Larry's mainstream executive experience, his creative work for "promoter-specialists," and study of advertising principles has enabled him to continually develop new High-Impact strategies for independent furniture retailers that are sound, complete, and innovative. Inquiries can be sent to Larry care of FURNITURE WORLD at firstname.lastname@example.org.