Top pieces of advice for businesses to succeed in 2002

AP PHOTO/James Poulson/Daily Sitka Sentinel
smithgregoryLR.jpg Yogi Berra once said, "If you don’t know where you are going, you could wind up someplace else." Business success in 2002 is not going to wait for those who are indecisive about what direction to take. For those businesses who would like some advice, I provide this Top 10 list.

1. Conduct a vampire extermination expedition. The beginning of the year is the best time to analyze your organization’s work processes. Determine what is wasteful and what is productive. Eliminate what is causing people not to perform at their best. Exterminate the "vampires" sucking money and resources from the bottom line. You are better off bringing someone in from outside the organization to do this. Outsiders bring an unbiased approach and a different perspective to your business.

2. Build a high-retention workplace. High retention begins the first day on the job. Put extra effort into your employee orientation programs and build a bond with new hires. A major factor causing workers to stay beyond 90 days in good part depends on how they were treated the first two days on the job. Managers should meet with new workers during the first week and conduct a new-hire survey about 30 days after they have been on board.

3. Don’t work for a jerk. The fact is that good people will quit bad bosses. A survey we conducted showed 35 percent of the respondents had quit their last job because of their immediate supervisor. La Rosa’s Pizza Co. is a national chain of 53 outlets consisting of 3,000 employees. At La Rosa’s, employees get to evaluate their bosses using a bottom-up Customer Satisfaction Index twice a year. After the CSI is completed, the chief executive has the managers discuss and resolve issues affecting employees.

4. Create an appreciation program. Reward and recognition programs are fine, but what people really want is appreciation. A survey I conducted for my book, "Here Today, Here Tomorrow," showed results supporting this idea. Participants were asked, "What causes you the greatest dissatisfaction at work?" The top answer was "lack of appreciation." Setting up a program to make people feel appreciated is not difficult. An well-administered program builds camaraderie, values and makes people feel good about themselves and their jobs.

5. A good organization is one that creates a motivating work environment. Be careful not to assume what motivates your people. In one organization I worked with, management was absolutely certain employees would select cash as its preferred form of recognition. Turned out, money didn’t matter, but parking did. While executives and certain top employees could park in the lot next to the building, most employees had to park several blocks away. With this information in hand, we built a very effective reward program allowing select employees to use the executive parking lot.

6. "I need to take a break to call my baby sitter." Most organizations don’t realize the impact family-friendly benefits have on productivity and retention. First Tennessee National Corp. started taking family issues seriously and made them top priority. They added many family friendly benefits and sent managers through 3-1/2 days of training. Employees stayed twice as long and the bank kept 7 percent more of its customers.

7. Put a parachute on your back. Can you imagine parachuting out of an airplane with no training? Many times, the first expense eliminated during a bad economy is training and development. Organizations that invest in training will come out far ahead than those that don’t. In a study of more than 3,100 U.S. workplaces, the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce found that on average, a 10 percent increase in work force education level led to an 8.6 percent gain in total productivity. On the other hand, a 10 percent increase in new equipment expenditures only increased productivity by 3.4 percent.

8. Use bottom-up involvement for high performance. Studies show having workers involved at all levels has a major impact on improving productivity, morale and motivation. A good example is Guardian Industries, an 800-person glass plant in Indiana. They decided to start listening to their employees to find out their opinions on how to staff the plants’ 24-hour work shifts. The employees decided instead of working rotating day and evening shifts, they would rather work permanent, 12-hour shifts. The result: Turnover fell by 50 percent.

9. Pursue innovation. Many organizations suffer from the "we’ve never done it that way before" syndrome. Rubbermaid is one of the most innovative companies in the world. It generates hundreds of new products a year. Products from the most recent years contribute to 33 percent of their sales. They keep ideas coming in by sending their workers to off-the-wall places, like museums to study the Egyptians to get new product ideas. All people, no matter their position, should be looking for new ideas to improve profits and productivity.

10. "Don’t answer the phone it might be a customer." People in the United States have lowered their standards and accept lousy customer service as the norm. Many businesses have designed and blindly placed impenetrable voice mail and automated phone systems in the way of good customer service. The reason is because organizations ignorantly think it is less expensive than paying someone to answer the phone. They are wrong. Nothing beats a real, old-fashioned, friendly human being on the other end of a telephone.

Gregory P. Smith leads the management consulting firm called Chart Your Course in Conyers, Ga. He can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

01/06/2002 - 8:00pm