Smart Growth: Steady As She Grows
Rapid Corporate growth can mean big changes for everyone in an organization. Keeping these employees motivated and accepting of those changes can be challenging. Even when done strategically, growth can feel chaotic and even good employees can grow distracted and confused. They can feel left out or unappreciated, create negative energy, or leave when it’s least afforded. And when performance suffers, clients search for their short list of alternative service providers.
What can be done to sustain productivity when the business is changing due to rapid growth? Contracting Profits asked a few insiders how they did it. The keys? Communication and teamwork. They make sure to promote a climate of change throughout their organizations, from an entry-level janitor’s first day on the job, and up through the corporate structure.
Explain changes and goals thoroughly
When employees are handed edicts without explanation, and have no hand in solutions, they balk. And, they balk loudest during times of rapid expansion and change, says Ron Cohn, Ph.D., senior consultant with Ralston Consulting Group in Salt Lake City.
“Without good answers, they just don’t care,” he says.
Jeffrey Packee, president and chief operating officer of Wauwatosa, Wis.-based CleanPower, keeps everybody involved not only in day-to-day goals, but also the corporation’s six-month, annual and five-year goals.
“Putting out that goal, ‘that we want to double,’ can seem absurd on a dry erase board in a meeting, but it is something in everyone’s psyche — a goal to achieve, and you’re putting energy into that. Keeping everyone informed is truly an art,” he adds. “I can’t say I’ve perfected it, but it happens through newsletters, ongoing training with HR and Operations, and our management team is in close contact with every account daily and weekly.”
Teams benefit everyone
CleanPower has achieved double-digit growth during the last six years. One of the reasons: Teamwork. Strong teamwork means everyone grows and learns from each other, and a growth-oriented organization should instill a teamwork attitude in all of its employees from the beginning.
“The benefit of growing,” says Packee, “is adding new experience and skill sets — so the company is getting better organically through the collective wisdom of the group! It helps especially in times of growing and stress. We have people that have been here 20-plus years, have a wealth of experience, and compliment the new perspectives and energy of folks from other industries and businesses.
“It’s also nice for a new manager to have an older manager beside him or her, saying: ‘we’ve done this before, I’ll support you.’ We’re all in this together; it’s good service for customers,” he adds.
New CleanPower management operate with an assigned ‘buddy’ for their first 30 to 60 days.
“They’re shown everything,” says Packee. “From how to retrieve e-mails and voice mails, to dealing with customer issues, working with contracts, estimating… We try to get our arms around the people that join as quickly as possible. It’s important to us — we’re investing in them, and they know what’s expected to be successful.”
New employees are also asked specific questions about the orientation and training they received.
“We get as good of feedback as we inquire on,” says Packee. “We try to do these face-to-face, or if their card is filled out already, we’ll say, ‘Tell me more, why do you feel this or that?’ And we address it by tweaking the training and orientation program.”
Another important part of teamwork is collaboration at all levels. Although change needs to be driven by top executives, it should not be monopolized by them.
“Begin to change on the basis of leadership practices, and by example,” says Cohn. “Business owners typically do it all themselves, and they need to let go of that and decentralize decision making on certain items.”
Packee invites employees at all levels to contribute to the decision-making process. Every employee newsletter and pay stub has a hotline with Packee’s direct phone number printed so they can ask questions or share concerns and ideas.
“I have to admit I don’t get a lot of calls, but there are people that have concerns, and I want to make sure I’m hearing them,” he states.
Packee also creates committees to unroll new programs.
“I allow the group to say who is involved,” he explains. “I say, ‘if you need me to sit in, fine, but I want to stay out and let the group come up with its own conclusion based on its own analysis. Bosses can monopolize the conversation, and I try to stay out because I can get too involved, which leads to micromanaging individuals and departments. Then they don’t feel that they can effect change or have influence, which is the opposite of what I want to create. I want people to step forward with ideas.”
Promote from within
When a BSC quickly acquires new territories and new accounts, it will need new leadership to go with it. However, it can be better to pull from existing ranks, rather than seek outsiders to fill new managerial jobs. Paul Greenland, president of Aetna Building Maintenance Inc. in Columbus, Ohio, says 75 percent of Aetna’s new management positions are filled by existing employees.
“It’s about keeping people motivated,” he says. “Many people in this industry it’s a feel dead-end job, but I can show them an operations manager with a good salary and benefits who began as a janitor at $6 per hour, now managing $2 million worth of business. People leave when they believe there are no opportunities for them.”
Identifying current staff for future promotion allows Greenland to expand quickly when he needs to. When a future supervisor is identified, he or she becomes an assistant supervisor which keeps the person motivated and eases the transition. Another strategy is to hire employees with skill sets above their entry level position, (paying a little more if necessary), and promoting them when they’re needed.
Similarly, be sure existing supervisors and middle managers aren’t lost in the squeeze. They usually feel substantial pressure when the company grows rapidly — suddenly, their job descriptions change and their responsibilities shift.
“They’re the ones who have to lay it on individual sites, and they may be underprepared,” says Cohn. “Don’t burn them out. They’re your bread and butter. Lay out expectations, do a gap analysis of where they need to get to in order to earn greater responsibility and coach them into it. I don’t believe in ‘sink or swim’ — the good ones could rise to the top at a different company.”
But don’t re-assign managers or alter their duties at whim, warns Cohn. He says it’s best to sit down with them, tell them what’s going to happen, and help them to develop the skills they’ll need to trade up from a single location to multiple locations, or multiple to regional.
Rewarding middle managers is a tactic shared by most growing BSCs. Packee holds summer and holiday gatherings and appreciation lunches for his field supervisors where they receive recognition, awards, prizes, lunch and some training — all paid.
“Supervisors on accounts are key for us,” he says. “They deal with issues day in and day out.”
Likewise, non-supervisory employees want to know their extra efforts are appreciated, especially during periods of growth and uncertainty. Aetna has a variety of employee rewards programs including the “Kudos” program. If a customer sends a complimentary note, staff earn a $25 gift card. Perfect attendance for a month earns points toward company merchandise, such as bomber jackets.
“It makes them feel like we care more than most of our competitors,” says Greenland, adding that Aetna’s pay and benefits are top notch.
Aetna also gives bonus commissions to individuals that sell specialty services — to anyone, not just sales staff.
Time also is a factor in rewarding achievement. When upper management seems to be focusing entirely on the new accounts and expanded territories, rank-and-file workers can feel underappreciated. So, Packee makes sure rewards are dispensed as quickly as possible.
“We have crew pizza parties if they’ve had a good inspection score, or the customer gave them a compliment,” he says, “to reinforce ‘this is something good. We encourage it
in our organization — let’s do more of this.’”
“We’re a people business,” says Greenland. “Take care of workers, so they take care of customers. Our unofficial motto is take care of the first, and they’ll take care of second.”
Lori Veit is a business writer in Madison, Wis., and a frequent contributor to Contracting Profits.
|The Game Of Work
In 20 short years the Coverall Cleaning Concepts franchise has grown from three to 2,000 employees around the globe. Its secret? One is a management model called “The Game of Work,” where internal teams compete and scores are posted for all to see.
Executive vice president Glenn Miller says the system provides everything employees need to continuously improve: clear goals, immediate feedback, proactive growth plans and individualized coaching. Goal-oriented competitions keep interest high, and winners are rewarded weekly, and at an annual awards dinner.
“Growth causes issues and problems, because you begin to operate in controlled chaos,” says Miller. “Systems begin to fail — software, personnel… What helped us grow is to have a culture that is about being better today than you were yesterday [and] getting every employee to look at each day as an opportunity to do better.
“Employees are aware that as the company grows larger, there are more opportunities for employees to move up, manage a new office or take the next job at the global support center,” Miller adds.
He says the system itself wasn’t easy to install, and that they’re still constantly promoting it, but that it’s been an exceptional investment.
“There is turnover, there are changes, it can be very difficult to get people to do anything consistently over that many years,” he says. “But when they see the results, they get into it. It’s served us well for our growth plans.”