by Susanne Laperle
Although it’s been used so much that the word “Empowerment” may draw yawns, the fact is that there is no better way to improve service levels and productivity than treating employees with trust and respect. Wonderful things happen when employees are given input and control; they become more confident and focused. They know what’s important, and feel comfortable taking initiatives and making decisions that affect the business. Best of all, their positive attitudes permeate everything they do, inspiring co-workers and customers alike.
"Go by your feelings," is an old saying. Recent studies indicate that customers who believe that retail employees are positive about their jobs are more likely to become repeat customers. Research also confirms that customers have higher expectations of service and product knowledge. Today, price is only a platform to keep retailers in the race; their key differentiators are the front line people.
Many companies have launched programs to give employees more training, accountability, and recognition. The results speak for themselves. Energy levels and enthusiasm shoot up. Extra things get done, problems get fixed, housekeeping improves, there is more smiling, and people are focused on priorities. As associates take on more responsibility and need less supervision, there’s more time for management to make things happen, explore new ideas, negotiate the best price, talk to customers and, most importantly, meaningfully recognize their employees' contributions.
Despite all of the training and consulting support available to help achieve this state of Corporate Zen, many companies continue to resist. To holdouts, the empowerment route seems frustrating, the results elusive and too slow in coming. But for those organizations that buy into the theory, there are long-term and lasting gains and rewards. However, it takes a long time to change a company’s culture, and employers often slip into their old habits.
Unfortunately, training programs, reorganization or re-engineering won’t get you there by themselves. You must find ways to encourage, as well as sustain, positive attitudes and confidence, and to create an environment where employees and the company are both successful.
What steps can a manager take to promote a climate of productivity, quality service and high morale?
Involvement, communication and celebration!
Start gently and gradually to involve everyone in setting company and individual goals. Make sure goals are meaningful, measurable and achievable. Reach an agreement on how they are to be achieved. Then organize priorities and people around achieving these goals.
Celebrate all successes, progress and improvements. Communicate results and give balanced, regular feedback. Confidence and momentum will build quickly. With input from associates, you’ll go from satisfying to delighting the customer, securing your competitive advantage.
Tools, training, information, feedback and discussion!
Train your people thoroughly. Give them every tool and scrap of information they need to do their job. Use every opportunity to share information - coach, model behaviour, evaluate performance and give feedback. Ask your employees for their input and discuss alternatives with them. One dimensional, one-way communications seldom motivates people. Discussion, on the other hand, works, as it builds understanding and support.
Respect, encouragement and honesty!
Be positive, not punitive when people make mistakes. The important thing is that they are taking initiative and they should be respected and encouraged. “Confidence building” works two-ways, and a strong belief in your employees is fundamental to their ability to meet and exceed your expectations. Be honest. If things aren’t going so well, be prepared for morale to slip, but don’t slip backwards or vacillate yourself. Sagging morale should be addressed with a re-emphasis on goals, and with encouragement and input from associates on how to improve the situation. When employees get involved in solutions, morale goes up. Keep the 'goal' in sight.
These simple steps, applied thoughtfully and consistently, without unrealistic expectations, will bring amazing results. Even where morale and productivity are already high, there’s always room for improvement, and as with any successful relationship, it takes constant work. Not surprisingly, it is often the managers or leaders with the most confident and productive teams of associates who work the hardest at maintaining an environment that promotes loyalty and motivation among their staff and customers.
Susanne Laperle is a Human Resources specialist now residing in Ottawa, Canada. Susanne has extensive experience with many major Canadian organizations and writes for several retailing publications. Contact Susanne by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .