“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”
– Jim Rohn
Let’s begin with a sobering observation about real life. Something happens to the things in our lives that we devalue, no matter what they are, regardless of category or how important we tell ourselves they are. It could be an object, such as a tool or even a car. On the other hand, it could be a person – a friend, an employee or even a spouse.
What we insufficiently value, we tend to lose. And in the case of employees, this can be distinctly true of the textile rental industry we all know and share. Why this is so has a great deal to do with the kinds of businesses we are as well as the relative strength and size of our national competitors, who are often able to offer a more programmed culture. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.
The truth is, none of this changes this essential fact: If we do not identify the employees we value, instill them with our trust and empower them to function independently, we will surely lose them (or at a minimum, limit their potential).
Let’s admit our disadvantages right at the outset so we can get rid of them as excuses for not doing what we really want to do. In the textile rental industry, many of us are independent operators and family businesses. We don’t have the large training budgets or programs of our larger national competitors. Therefore, we often do not have a systematic way of moving employees along in a timely, progressive fashion.
Now for the good part. Once we honestly come to grips with our own ad hoc decision-making, instituting a culture of trust and empowerment that positively affects our employee retention numbers isn’t nearly as impossible as it seems. Let’s get started.
Make Your Standards Actual Standards.
After all, a standard is defined as “a rule or principle that is used as a basis for judgment.” As a manager or leader of a business, many of us have intrinsic standards we use as bases for judgment. But are they visible? Are they well-known, especially among those whose performance will be judged? Just as importantly, are they uniformly applied? In other words, if timeliness is a standard, then it follows that our standards should be applied in a timely manner and not only when we have a gun to our head.
The essential cornerstone of a standardized approach to winning greater employee retention is trust. Make sure you set whatever parameters and restrictions are necessary for managerial peace-of-mind, but then trust your employees to work independently and execute the plan with minimal oversight. There simply can be no substitute for allowing your people to exit the nest and fly, even if the act takes you out of your own comfort zone. Failure to permit someone to act independently deprives them of the opportunity to succeed or fail on their own, and thus the opportunity to learn. If they see there is no path to success, they will leave.
The next step is empowerment. There is no anchor leg of a relay race without the passing of the baton. What makes larger competitors formidable is not merely their organizational structure, but rather their ability to push power down to lower levels in the hierarchy. When an independent company embraces true employee empowerment, it not only facilitates the development and retention of talent, but also frees up management to pursue its strategic function rather than micro-manage people. Without a route to developing personal power, employees will leave.
Once the power to assume greater responsibility has been delegated, the ability to make independent decisions follows. Decision-making authority forces employees into the habit of thinking for themselves. Once they realize your management team rewards well thought out decisions, they become promotable and realize they have a stake in the future of the company. Without this, they will feel boxed in, and eventually they will leave.
Frame the Big Picture.
If you are like other independent company owners in no other way, you are like them in this: You have a Big Picture. You have a vision for the future of your business and surely a road map to get there. But how many other people in the company know your Big Picture? And how many of them are aware of their own role in it?
Previously, we mentioned micro-management. In truth, it is a great failure in leadership style when owners and managers spend far too much time down in the weeds. This is a seductive trap because it drains the time of managers and detracts from their ability to empower.
Instead, you should schedule weekly meetings that involve your second-level management team in your Big Picture of the business. These meetings are your indispensable tool for identifying and maintaining a leadership cadre that is invested in rising up against your competitors. Ask yourself if those involved in your meetings will be in your corporate vision and involved in setting the direction of the company for the next five years.
Next, solicit input. Involvement is not synonymous with mere attendance. In order to have any chance at realizing your Big Picture, you must have people speaking and contributing. Set the standard for a reverse 80/20 Rule; in other words, limit your own contribution to 20% and demand that the other 80% of the input come from your second level managers. Sticking to this rule will help you build a true bottom-up culture rather than top-down managerial rehash. It will also help those empowered to commit to providing serious input, and will ultimately prove instrumental in separating the winners from the also-rans in any organization.
Finally, trust your people to make or break themselves. Sink or swim. Failing early and in small doses is essential to learning, both personally and professionally. Any small project or responsibility can be someone’s potential career-builder. For example, delegate the oversight of a sales contest. Push down an initiative and hand someone the budget for it. Sign off. Watch what happens, but don’t micro-manage. Winners will emerge as long as you are ethical and moral. Let your people rise or fall on their own accord.
Building Next-Level Empowerment.
In a trust-based culture, how far down does empowerment go? This is an interesting question, and one you may want to keep in your back pocket to pose to your second-level managers. Your third-level people constitute the rank and file of your organization and may not have the same understanding of the limitations and requirements of employee empowerment that exists in the second tier. However, some degree of empowerment is generally beneficial and produces results even on the factory floor. For example, it is reasonable to ask whether a third-level employee has the power to halt production for the sake of quality if they notice a defect.
In addition, there are other strategies for third-level empowerment. Some companies routinely pay bonuses for ideas. Similarly, one might consider a team bonus awarded each week, based on productivity.
Empowerment also extends to your route reps and delivery team members. After all, these vital functions really call for proactive people who are able to perceive and act on the unmet needs of customers. They are, in effect, the front line of your organization and are already presumably acting on their own initiative hundreds of times each day. In such cases, the answer may be simply to state the obvious. Tell them as many times as you need to that you are empowering them within defined limits to exercise their judgment in building your company’s future at the ground level.
Empowering your team throughout the levels of your organization can have a multiplier effect and one that spreads with surprising quickness through a process very like osmosis. Good managers can speed the process simply through their presence in the plant – not micro-managing, but rather giving occasional feedback and reinforcing behavior positively.
Exuding and actually conferring trust in this way works on the psyche of your employees and, cumulatively, the psyche of your teams. Through trust and empowerment to make improvements, people begin to see your business as a place they want to go to work, rather than a place they have to go to work. Hire and lose will be replaced by a completely new cycle: Hire. Orient. Train. Trust. Train. Trust. (Repeat.)
You’ll also discover something else. You will have changed the game. You’ve moved from a culture of talk to a culture of action. And in so doing, you’ll have built yourself a team of game-changers.
Download PDF click here