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Employee Accountability in 2019

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 149 NO.6 November/December


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Processes and checks must be put in place at every retail level to ensure accountability in retail furniture workplaces.

 

Nothing gets the party hats and streamers out quite like the topic of accountability. But where would our world be without it? Many business owners and managers can tell you exactly what the world would look like: chaos! Without accountability, any business cannot and will not succeed. That's why processes and checks must be put in place at every retail level to enforce policies, procedures, and standards. That's why accountability should be the prime focus of senior level managers.

Poor Accountability

Reactive managers and owners are created by a lack of accountability in retail workplaces. Instead of proactive problem solving, they tend to adopt a mindset that it's OK to clean up issues after they happen. Some companies do survive fixing problems they create. Unfortunately, resulting poor customer experiences and negative attitudes cannot be erased. Accountability helps alleviate or eliminate many of the repeat issues that are dealt with daily at retail. For example, when an employee thinks it is acceptable to show up “only five minutes late”, it's a symptom of lack of both employee and management accountability. Managers should, after all, be responsible for preventing this type of employee behavior that can eventually result in losing the very employees who do hold themselves accountable. An unfair working environment is a temporary working environment.

Chain of Command

“This type of employee behavior can eventually result in losing the very employees who do hold themselves accountable. An unfair working environment is a temporary working environment”

Arguably, the single most successful organizational structure in the United States is the United States Army, though any branch of the military would fit this example. The Army has been in the business of protecting rights and freedoms in America since 1775 and remains a force to be reckoned with today. Most businesses cannot say they have been in business for over 200 years. The Army is built on policies, procedures, and standards that have been enforced and updated as needed to ensure they are not only in business, but are the outright best in the business. Most people have heard of chain of command in the military, but how does that apply to your business? Is your chain of command well known and followed? Do your ground-level employees know who to report to when a difficult situation arises?

Businesses must have structure. You should have SMEs (subject matter experts) in every department. Employees should be aware of who their FPOC (first point of contact) is. The Army believes that there needs to be a backup to the backup, so a SPOC (second point of contact) is equally as important to proper operation at all times. Ensuring your company has specific points of contact allows individuals to hold management accountable as well, and for ground-level employees to be able to express ideas, concerns, or needs effectively. A hierarchical chain of command prevents upper managers from being interrupted with minor issues that could be handled by subordinates.

Subject Matter Experts


“You should have subject matter experts in every department. Employees should be aware of who their first point of contact is.”

Subject matter experts are individuals who are the best at what they do. Each department should have at least one SME. This is essential to running a business and upholding accountability. Individuals who take pride in their work and are proficient should be identified and labeled as such. SMEs should be well aware of the responsibilities that come with the title. Individuals marked as experts should be tasked with training new hires after orientation. SMEs are not “silos”. Years ago a SME would have been referred to as a sacred cow, but today, a silo is a stand-alone individual who does not share knowledge or routines that work. While they may be skilled, they do not promote company growth. In fact they stultify growth, and tie the hands of managers and owners. Growing companies need a continuous supply of individuals who can grow with the company. Appropriately chosen SMEs help make this happen.

Structured Environment

Once you name key individuals to SME roles, and designate leads, supervisors or managers as FPOC and SPOC you begin to create a chain of command and, therefore, a structured environment. Only then should you turn your attention to operations to identify weaknesses and strengths. This can only be done by digging deep and getting your fingernails dirty. Processes that provide a measurable result (for example, unloading a truck) provide metrics that can be used to track ebbs and tides in efficiency.

Process Metrics

There are many metrics in a furniture warehouse that can and should be tracked to optimize processes. Two great tools that are used in the industry are: Pieces Per Hour (PPH) for warehouses, and First Time Delivery (FTD) for drivers.

“Developing a bonus system for your top drivers will naturally increase competition and reward individuals who are bringing the most to the table.”

Pieces Per Hour: We measure PPH by counting how many individuals are working to prep items pulled for delivery. The tasks include opening, assembling, staging the product, and recycling waste materials. The amount of pieces prepped, divided by the amount of people prepping, gives the average amount of items an individual prepped per day. Divide the amount of items prepped per individual by the time it took to execute the work and you have a PPH metric. For example, if a typical load is 200 pieces, processed by four people over six hours, the average pieces prepped per individual will be 50. Divide 50 by six hours and the PPH for this example is 8.333. By using this metric daily you can focus in on efficiencies or inefficiencies. Compiling data over a period of time will provide averages and help you compare operational efficiency to actual operational costs. Without metrics you can't know if you’re improving, getting worse or going nowhere. Results should be evaluated daily to give employees visibility about their performance, and provide managers with tangible data for evaluations and disciplinary actions. Metrics can also assist in building schedules based off the company’s needs.

First Time Deliveries: Managers can use First Time Delivery (FTD) to track deliveries in the same manner by comparing total deliveries to successful deliveries, and total pieces delivered compared to successful pieces delivered. You'll be stunned to see the friendly competition that arises between lead drivers when results are posted regularly. Competition will breed success if it is controlled. Tracking delivery performance and client satisfaction helps pinpoint where training and optimization is needed most. Holding drivers to a very high standard is the only way to see clients come back through your retail doors. Metrics should be posted daily, and drivers should be celebrated or held accountable for their successes and failures. Developing a bonus system for your top drivers will naturally increase competition and will reward individuals who are bringing the most to the table. In turn, you will also be able to accurately identify those who add the least value, by failing to meet minimum standards.

Net Promoter Score: It is a good idea to augment these metrics by determining a net promoter score (NPS). The NPS is a quick survey of all customers that purchased delivery. It’s a 1-10 score based on clients' delivery experiences. It can be worded in many ways, but must be consistent for every contact. Collecting this data will tell you if your clients had a great experience, if they will tell a friend, and if they plan to return to buy from your company. You can post the NPS by driver to create even more competition.

See recent articles on operations metrics from Furniture World's contributing editor, David McMahon at https://www.furninfo.com/Authors/List.

Positive Performance Agreements

The next step to ensure accountability, once you have implemented daily metrics, is to report your findings, and address your employees. Inevitably you will find a few “rock stars” in your company. The majority of your employees are probably meeting expectations and few individuals are simply drawing a paycheck. The difference makers — your rock stars — should be awarded and at a bare minimum thanked for their commitment to making your company successful. A great tool to recognize their success is a Positive Performance Agreement. This short and simple document highlights the actions or behaviors being rewarded. Most employees in any company are meeting expectations. As a leader it is your responsibility to elevate this pool of individuals, acknowledge their potential and provide training to mold and mentor them. With proper grooming, these employees will become FPOC, get promoted and possibly lead a department. They can be rewarded with Positive Performance Agreements as well, but may need constructive criticism at the same time.

Improvement Agreements

“You will lose your best employees if they see situations being handled unevenly, potentially opening your business up to lawsuits. SOP documentation provides the clear, concise guidelines and expectations.”

Not all employees will fall into the categories listed above. Hopefully, none of your employees will fail to meet the standard, but inevitably there will be a few who need more attention and training. Our retail organization has found that the most effective training for lower-performing individuals starts with an Improvement Agreement. An Improvement Agreement is just that: agreeing with the employee that they can improve regarding a certain topic or area of performance. These agreements identify the needed area of improvement; state the support to be provided by management; and provide a follow-up date to verify that improvements have been made. Following up and letting employees know where they stand is a vital practice that helps to avoid hostile employee interactions and surprises. Some under-performing employees may actually think they are performing at a high level or better than their peers.

Fairness

Life is not fair, but treatment of employees should be as fair as possible. This is made easy by providing every employee with a clear policy acknowledging the standard operating procedure (SOP) for their job. Employees should know and understand how your company chooses to operate so they have a good understanding of what's expected, and how their jobs should be done. Providing this information will avoid surprise reactions during review and counseling sessions. Warning notices should be provided to employees who have violated policies. In most cases, they should initially receive a verbal warning (not including safety incidents or bad decision making) to identify the problem and alert them to the fact that they will receive a written warning notice, should it happen again. If the same scenario persists, suspension and termination should be considered. The process used to correct any one individual should be the same for everyone that makes a similar mistake. Keep in mind that you will lose your best employees if they see situations being handled unevenly, potentially opening your business up to lawsuits. SOP documentation provides clear, concise guidelines and expectations. Without this documentation you will have arbitrary rules.


“Reactive managers and owners are created by a lack of accountability in retail workplaces. Instead of proactive problem solving, they tend to adopt a mindset that it's OK to clean up issues after they happen.”

Be, Know, Do

A great leader once taught me Be, Know, Do. Excellent employees must be where they are supposed to be and when they are supposed to be there. They need to know exactly what they are expected to do.

Your employees should be held to your standards. They should not be tardy, they should know what is expected of them every day.

Managers need to follow up to ensure that employees are executing according to plan. Here's how our operation does this.

  • Daily meetings at the beginning of each shift starts with a roll-call to identify attendance issues.
  • During these meetings employees are told exactly what needs to happen for the day to ensure success.
  • We include emergency issues that may arise and detail possible remedies.
  • These meetings provide employees with clear, achievable expectations. If not, clear reasons why the job could not be completed to standard should be provided.
  • We expect that any issues will be corrected and addressed the following day to avoid repetition.
  • A recap meeting, normally conducted weekly, highlights team successes and brings all employees together to address issues. Multiple people working together on a solution will almost always yield better results than one individual solving problems for a unit.

 

Conclusion

Optimists see the glass half full. Pessimists view it half empty. Effective managers see the glass as twice the size it needs to be. Lowering operating costs and promoting more delivered sales is the goal for all warehouse and distribution centers in our industry. Start with daily metrics and review them with your team to begin this process. Metrics enable managers to find operational weaknesses in a huge number of areas that impact profitability.

Making effective number-proven decisions will help lower operating costs.


“Our retail organization has found that the most effective training for lower-performing individuals starts with an Improvement Agreement.”

The process of improvement starts with accountability, and this requires the following implementation steps outlined previously.

  • Specify a chain of command.
  • Appoint FPOCs and SPOCs.
  • Have SMEs for routine jobs.
  • Implement a process for training, improving, and counseling employees.
  • Identify your limitations and capabilities.
  • Ensure that your employees know if they are exceeding expectations, simply meeting expectations, or failing to meet your company’s standards.

 

Running any business is hard! If it was easy, anyone could do it. It's important to use all the tools at your disposal to increase the chances for success. Chief among these are structure and accountability.

 



About William Vanderford: William Vanderford is an Operations Manager at Red Knight Distribution Center located in Clarksville, TN. He has worked in this industry as a Warehouse Manager, Service Manager, Service Technician, Delivery Driver, as well as a warehouse associate. William believes that leadership and attention to goals can make today better than yesterday. At Knight Distribution Center he has helped to implement standards, policies, and procedures in efforts to build structure and consistency allowing for operational savings and increased profits. He attended Mississippi College and was an all-state football player in High School, where he learned the foundation of his work ethic as well as the value of accountability. William utilizes metrics to validate successes and highlight areas that need attention because numbers don’t lie.

Questions about this article or any warehouse or service-related topic can to be directed to William, care of editor@furninfo.com.

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.