Early this morning I went to my favorite ‘big box’ supermarket, WinCo. If you’re not in one of the 5 states where it operates (Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California, and Oregon), you may not be familiar with it and I’d like to introduce you.
WinCo is an employee-owned food-supply chain that cares as much for its employees as it does for its customers. As a result, the customer service and store care is exceptional: the stores are spotless, well-stocked, and employees are easy to find if you have a question, not to mention always kind, informed, and personal. And it’s always a surprise to find items I purchase in more specialty stores – even Amazon! – at least 40% cheaper! Who knew my favorite Roasted Salsa Verde (Herdez) was available at half the price! I love this store and am willing to drive out of my way to shop there.
As I was walking down an aisle I noticed a tall woman and young man walk over to a much older man as he was cleaning the floors:
Woman: We’d like to give you a gift (She handed him an envelope – I assume it was a check.) for all the hard work you do and how well you take care of us all. You always go the extra step to make this store even better. We deeply appreciate you and all do you for us. We all thank you.
I must admit I stopped in my tracks and began crying a bit. I had never heard this in any store, nor have I been aware of supermarkets gifting and thanking employees for their service. I sought the woman (his manager?) out.
SD: Do you choose an ‘employee of the month’ each month and hand out checks to the winners?
Woman: No. It’s on an individual basis. Sometimes we hand out a few in one month, sometimes only a few a year. It depends. When we notice someone doing a great job we reward them and let them know they’re important to us. It’s pretty simple. We take care of each other and show our appreciation when one of us shines.
‘We take care of each other’. So simple! When was the last time you let an employee, one of your staff or team, know how much they were appreciated? Went out of your way to take care of them?
OUR EMPLOYEES ARE OUR FIRST CUSTOMERS
When I started up my tech company in 1983 in London I had never run a business before. But even without knowing ‘the rules’ I knew it was as important to care for my team as well as I cared for clients. To that end I put in place some initiatives to make sure they felt taken care of.
Every year I gave the management team a fully paid week off and a $3,000 check for tuition and travel to take any type of course they wanted (Photography? Pottery?), even if the subject matter had nothing to do with their jobs. The goal was to help them keep their brains creative and curious. Certainly a way to let them know I appreciated them.
I also didn’t give them vacation time per se but told them to take off whatever time they needed (so long as they covered their responsibilities) when they felt they weren’t operating on all cylinders. I told them I trusted them to know when they needed rest – it wasn’t about the time.
Surprisingly I had to force them to take time off. I would call their wives – and in those days (1980’s) the team was mostly men and the women were usually at home doing child care – tell them to give the kids to the grandparents for a few days, and keep their husbands in bed. To make sure they had plenty of time to relax, I had restaurants deliver food to them so no one had to cook or shop. My folks would return rested with happy faces.
Because it was quite important to me that we all meshed even though in scattered locations, I took my inside and outside folks to a pub once a month for beer and darts. I always lost (I never figured out darts in all my years in London!); out of pity, I suspect, they then bought the next round.
FIELD FOLKS BROUGHT IN BUSINESS
To keep abreast of the field folks (the techies) and make sure they felt like part of the company, I called each of them once a month to check in. Sure, I only had 40 people in the field so it was doable (My secretary would schedule the calls to make sure we connected).
One of the pluses of my check-ins was they would tell me when our client was preparing to upgrade the program/package we supported. I knew the vendor had a team that installed it, but that would have taken business away from us and we could easily do the installation. I certainly wanted to be involved with any follow-on work.
I would then call my client before the new software was installed and asked if they’d be willing to continue working with us if they brought in new software. Of course they were happy to have us do the work, given my staff’s excellence. This factor alone caused my business to explode. I once even got a call from the vendor: “You’re killing me. Clients order an upgrade but don’t hire us to do any programming because you’re already handling it. How do you get in there so fast?”
My colleagues chided me when they found out how well I took care of my peeps: “Are you running a spa?” they’d ask. “Don’t you think your folks will take advantage?” I think they were jealous, but that didn’t stop them from trying to hire my staff away from me. I would hear grumbles at conferences, gossip that they were offering big bucks to lure my folks away. But nope, I never lost an employee to anything other than relocation in four years. They were happy.
Together we grew the business from zero to almost $5,000,000 in under four years – with no internet (1984 -1988), no websites, no email, no Twitter, no LinkedIn. Just me – a rookie entrepreneur – and my team remained dedicated to caring for our clients and each other.
WHO IS YOUR CLIENT?
I believe our employees are our first customers – happy staff happy clients. Why do we forget this? How is it possible that some of the larger companies are known to have high turnover, low pay, and very strict hours with rules designed to minimize variance and kill the creative spirit rather than maximize kindness and respect?
Why are companies willing to harm employees, to be disrespectful and unkind, just to save a buck? When did money become more important than values or humanity? What are they saving, anyway?
When I did consulting work at KPMG I noticed a bravado about working all night, or 80 hour weeks. No surprise that many of the partners were on their third marriages – almost all on their second. Working that hard – hard enough to ignore sleep, relationships, food – was a highly valued part of the culture. Why?
Why don’t we take care of our employees better? Trust them and their ideas? Take time to listen to them? Make them understand that without them we can’t be successful? How did people become expendable to save money at all costs?
I know a very large, successful multinational that forces all levels of employees to spend hours preparing for meetings with senior managers where they’d have to make a case to receive modest funds – even $200! – for an online skills course or money for needed coaching. It’s a misuse of everyone’s time, disrespectful, and not even rational. Why not give mid-level managers a slush fund to have on hand when someone needs something and trust their judgement!? Why not hire people you can trust and let them decide what their folks need?
We all put so much energy into our clients and customers so we can make money. Why don’t we offer our staff the same respect? We spend a fortune hiring and training the ‘right’ people and then create rules and restrictions to control them. We treat them like chits, like cogs in a wheel and make them replaceable, ‘things’ without value. And yet we want them to deliver for us and complain about turnover, about their lack of ownership.
What we lose is not only ideas and loyalty, but the spirit of a man, the heart of a woman. We too often make our employees objects. I’ve interviewed middle managers in large corporations who tell me they’ve stopped bringing in new ideas because they don’t get heard, or live only for their vacation time because they’re so miserable and stay only because they’re getting paid so well.
Let’s take as good care of our employees as we do our clients and customers. Let’s make sure everyone is given the time, the respect, the remuneration, to work in an environment that is filled with kindness, trust, creativity, collaboration and ideas so they can’t wait to come to work each day. Let’s treasure each of our employees. They are, indeed, special. That’s why we hired them.
What’s the cost? What’s the cost if we don’t?