- THE MAGAZINE
"Knowledge shared is power lost."
Wars have been started, kingdoms have been lost, marriages broken up and businesses destroyed - all due to a failure to communicate. Yes, as any behavioral psychologist will tell you, most problems in both business and personal life are due to poor communication. And yet, even when we see the value of open and clear communicating in business, we still clam up. All of us tend to "play our cards close to the vest" and not share information with our employees. This is not necessarily based on a consuming obsession for raw power. No, very probably this secrecy is based on the fact we don't really know what we are doing! After all, no one wants to confess to making it up as they go along.
Savvy business managers realize, however, that nothing beats the power found in a group of quality people all working together to achieve a shared grand vision. But you will never achieve this synergistic group energy unless you improve your own employee communication skills.
Recognize the gap. You might as well face it. As you speak to an employee in what you think is English, he or she hears Martian coming out of your mouth. Why? Let me count the ways: different backgrounds, different goals, different values, different lifestyles and most certainly different incomes. Therefore, before you can even think about communicating, you must...
Build a relationship. Very likely you aren't interested in becoming "bosom buddies" with your technicians. That's OK. They aren't wild about partying with you this weekend either! However, there is a big difference between friendships based on common social backgrounds/personalities and a professional relationship based on trust. Your employees are trusting in your management skills to provide a secure financial future for them and their families, while you are trusting your people to reflect your business values and work ethic as they represent you out there in the marketplace (it's all rather frightening when you think about it!). Mutual trust is the glue that holds a business together, and suspicion is the enemy of trust. Fight one common source of suspicion by recognizing that...
You also are hiring the spouse. It never failed to amaze me. I could hire a financially struggling young man, treat him fairly and with respect and dignity. I would train him from the floor up in a rewarding and potentially lucrative new career. I would also shower him with praise and appreciation, not to mention handsome paychecks, bonuses and generous benefits. And yet, somehow, it was just never enough for his wife. Deep down inside his wife was just sure that her dear hubby deserved better and that I was a money grubbing businessman taking advantage of her poor, hardworking, but gullible spouse!
Listen closely here. No man will work long term at a job that his wife hates. I finally learned this and focused on cultivating a trusting relationship right from the get-go with the spouse. It all started immediately after hiring and went a little something like...
"Joe, welcome aboard. By the way, are you married? (Remember you cannot legally ask this question before the hiring decision has been made and communicated to the new employee.) My wife and I would like to get to know your family. Could we take you all out to brunch this weekend? And then afterward I'd like to give your wife and kids a tour of the office and warehouse and show them what you will be doing in your new job..."
This initial socializing went a long way toward establishing mutual trust and appreciation with the new hire's wife. Then we built on this by including the spouses in our twice-yearly company parties where we always publicly recognized the wives. And, of course, the regular paycheck didn't hurt either!
Help your employees define their dream. We all have dreams. But my guess is the average technician isn't real good about identifying, much less articulating, what his dream is. Once you know what the goals of your employees are, you will be better equipped to follow those famous words of the late Sam Walton: "If you help your people get what they want, they'll help you get what you want too." A side benefit of this philosophy is it feels pretty darn good watching your employees mature emotionally and prosper financially, at least partly due to your guidance and support.
Share your "grand vision." For thousands of years humans have banded together to accomplish goals that singly they could not possibly achieve. Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. So form your team by first defining what your purpose and goals are as a business, then share it with your employees and see how their dreams and your vision can develop together. All too often the "purpose" of both the entrepreneur and the employee is to survive the next week. Life is too short.
Reward employees based on achieving short term goals. Grand visions are great. But all of us perform better with an immediate objective and reward in view. For example, your long-term business vision might be to achieve superb customer service and great profitability while dominating your local market. Wonderful!
But how does this translate into action for your 22-year-old technician? Why not measure and reward each Customer Cheerleader he creates, and give him an additional, immediate bonus for every Scotchgard application he up-sells in the home? Remember, your company will be transformed into a world-class business one customer at a time. Reward your employees the same way - one customer at a time. (Note: The additional advantage of the protector "up-sell" bonus is that properly structured it pays for itself plus gives you a nice profit. Priceless!)
Let them know how they are doing. All of us crave guidance and recognition. Give your people the feedback they need by praising and rewarding them on a daily basis. Remember that recognition is especially powerful when given in front of someone's peers. So try to follow the old adage, "Praise in public, reprove in private." In fact, one of the best advantages a company staff meeting provides is the opportunity to heap praise and positive feedback on individual employees. And, of course, it also gives you a chance to communicate to your staff the two most powerful words in the English language: "Thank you!"