'The Dream Manager': The New Book On Reducing Turnover
For years, business owners — including building service contractors — have turned to business bestsellers to find motivation, leadership strategies and insight to running a better company. But, perhaps no book is more in tune with a building service contractor’s business than Matthew Kelly’s “The Dream Manager.” The book outlines a unique way to reduce turnover — BSCs’ biggest problem — and is based on an actual BSC.
Like a real-life BSC, the book’s fictitious Admiral Janitorial Services (a company of 400 employees) suffers from a turnover rate of 400 percent. Turnover is costing the company $2 million a year. So, any solutions to the problem will most likely save the company money. Turnover is also negatively affecting employee morale, job efficiency and customer relations.
Admiral’s owner, Greg, wants to end the problem and proposes a raise for all employees. However, general manager Simon thinks this will only be a quick fix. He decides to go straight to the source for the answer to the turnover problem. He surveys employees about what would encourage them to stay at Admiral longer and the results indicate that workers have difficulty traveling to their job sites. Many employees don’t own a car and public transportation isn’t always available, especially at night when cleaning is done.
As a result, Admiral implements a shuttle system to transport janitors to and from accounts. It’s an expensive solution, but it works. Turnover starts to shrink, as does absenteeism and tardiness.
While asking front-line employees what will help improve working conditions is innovative enough, the book goes a step further. Another survey is sent out, this time asking why workers leave Admiral. The answer: janitorial is seen as a dead-end job. It’s not a career.
To change that perspective, Admiral implements the Dream Manager program. The company hires a “dream manager” to listen to employees’ dreams and desires and then develop a plan to help them achieve those goals.
One of Admiral’s first test subjects is Rita, a front-line supervisor who has been with the company for years. Her dream is to own her house. The dream manager works with Rita and a real estate agent on making the dream come true. When it does, it inspires others in the company to join the program. Turnover reduces even more, customer retention increases and as a result of both, profits soar. The program is opened to any willing employees — front-line or managerial — and it becomes so popular another dream manager has to be hired.
Like so many business books, skeptics could easily say “The Dream Manager” isn’t realistic. What works on paper won’t work in real life. However, Admiral Janitorial Services and its success are based on Tony and Mary Miller of Jancoa, building service contractors in Cincinnati.
“While the book has been presented as fiction, it is really the conglomerate of the stories from several different companies we have worked with,” says author Kelly in an interview. “But primarily it is the story of what the Millers did and are doing at Jancoa.”
The Millers started their Dream Manager program in 1996. It was born out of conversations between Tony and Mary on how to improve employee retention — similar to the conversations between Greg (who is based on Tony) and Simon (a merge of Tony and Mary) in the book.
And as in the book, the Millers conducted surveys (though theirs were done verbally) to find out what their employees wanted. The answer came back as transportation. For years afterward, 58 percent of Jancoa’s employees were picked up from their homes and brought to work by their employers.
“If you demonstrate to your employees that you are genuinely interested in helping them build a future for themselves, not only will they stay, but they will become a very different kind of employee,” says Kelly. “There is no point telling your employees what should be important to them personally. You have to ask them what they consider to be important for them.”
Just as Greg and Simon knew, Tony and Mary understood that offering free shuttles wouldn’t be enough to permanently reduce turnover. The Millers really wanted to positively impact the lives of their employees.
“If it wasn’t for people helping us from time to time, we wouldn’t be here today,” says Mary Miller. “We wanted to give that back to our employees.”
One of the first people through the Dream Manager program was Gloria, a site supervisor. The character of Rita is based on her and as in the book, Gloria was able to buy a brand new house thanks to the program. Her change in quality of life inspired others from Jancoa to get involved with the Dream Manager program.
Jancoa has experienced tremendous success with the program. Turnover has decreased from more than 100 percent, down to 40 percent.
“We know that if we take of our people, they’ll take care of our customers and our customers will take care of us,” says Mary.
The principles of the Dream Manager program have been tested and proven in other companies besides Jancoa.
One of those examples is the Allen Groupe, an Orlando-based company specializing in cleaning commercial and private airliners. The company was experiencing high turnover and inefficient employees when owner David Allen learned of the Dream Manager program. He had never heard anything like it.
“If you have a drinking problem there’s AA, if you have a weight problem there’s Weight Watchers,” says Allen. “But what program is there to help you achieve your dreams or goals in life?”
Allen was hooked instantly and still remains very passionate about the program. He knew that adding a dream manager to his staff was the answer for his company’s employee struggles.
“You can build the best mousetrap, have the perfect system in place, but it requires people to execute your vision,” he says. “And you have dreams for those people, but until they acknowledge their own dreams, they’ll let you down.”
As predicted, there were skeptics among Allen’s employees, but there were also believers. For example, one employee had never been outside of Florida and it was his dream to travel. Allen invited him to attend a conference in Atlanta as a start to achieving his dream.
“Three months later he’s skiing in Dubai,” says Allen. “He now lives in Europe.”
Successes like this helped to convert the skeptics and since implementing the program, most of Allen’s employees are more enthusiastic and more engaged in their work.
Better Business Cleaning Inc. in Erie, Colo., is another company that has been reinvigorated by the “The Dream Manager.” The company had already been practicing similar principles to those outlined in the book, says CEO Jim Sutton, but the book has helped reaffirm their program’s importance. Employees are encouraged to construct “dreamboards” with pictures of their goals. Some employees desire to drive a better car, others want to spend more time with family.
“We sit here with 47 things on our desk and we hate it,” says Sutton. “But when we see our dreamboard, we get excited and understand why we’re working so hard.”
Turnover has always plagued the cleaning industry and over the years BSCs have tried a variety of means to reduce it — some successful, others not. Many contractors learn that an answer better than raises is to make the employee feel part of a “team.” Implementing the principles outlined in “The Dream Manager” can help bolster that philosophy.
“From janitors to CEOs we all have dreams, and the program is simply about filling people with hope for their future and helping them to build a bigger future than their past,” says Kelly.
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