When I was in retailing in our family’s fine jewelry and gift business before I went into consulting in 1983, something took place that I had not thought of or intended to have happen. It related to employee job reviews.
Let me set the stage. In a casual conversation, one of our young employees, who had been with us for about a year, asked me what we family members believed were the criteria for employees to keep their jobs. My answer was essentially this: “Either be so proficient that we can’t afford to lose you or be so versatile—have working knowledge of the product—and good that you could fill in where you were needed and, of course, make sales. This young woman, luckily for us, was extremely versatile.
One day, after we had completed her performance review, she asked if she could be frank with me. Seeing that she was hesitant about stepping on my toes or being critical of me, I asked her what she had on her mind.
‘Do you realize that you expect us to do a lot more than our job description says but you have never communicated any of this to us?’
She said, “Mr. Zell, do you realize that you expect us to do a lot more than our job description says but you have never communicated any of this to us? The only time we hear of these expectations is when you tell us to do it and we do not do it to the level you wanted or expected.”
Bang! While I knew it was true, it was a wake-up call that something should be done. Understand that, in a family business, if we, as a matter of course, did lots of things just because they needed doing, so, too, we felt, should our employees. This got me to thinking about how could I set up a review program to make the job description more encompassing of what the job was.
When I came into the business started by my father and his three brothers, I just assumed that somewhere there were job descriptions. There were. But after looking at what we had for job descriptions in my departments (the non-jewelry merchandise), I recognized that what my employee said was true. The description was too general and did not state what I, the business or customers expected from the employees.
The result was that I designed (through much trial and error) a checklist matrix format of points that I, the business, customers, the front office and the basement expected from each employee. Each member of my sales staff was to review the points each month and check off those they had performed. Employees were to bring the checklist with them for their next review.
And unexpected result of the new job description and matrix-based review checklist was that our current employees, and those who came on board later, all showed the job description to their friends and family. Typically, family and friends are interested in employees’ work situation (particularly the negatives). But when outsiders who had a connection to insiders saw the points on the checklist and how thorough we were in looking at the employee holistically, they told other people. And word got out that Zell Bros. was a firm that took care of the details. That raised the profile of our store and its merchandise.
So, yes, employees are ambassadors for your business. But, it does not stop there. The policies and procedures you install—and the environment you instill—also speaks volumes about your business.