In your Headlong Rush to Create the People-Focused Culture of the new Millennium don’t throw out the Baby with the Bathwater

Naturally you want to create a culture of happy, motivated and productive staff who are totally committed to your company’s cause and its financial wellbeing. Who doesn’t in this new millennium where every employee under twenty five is just a click away from leaving your workplace and chasing the next big career move or the next exciting project to work on?

But in your rush to accommodate the whims and fancies of the ping pong playing, bean bag sitting, Twitter scrolling workforce, let’s not forget that the culture you are creating filled with fun and frolic also has to make some money to justify its existence and support its development and it has a duty of care to serve the most important stakeholder of all, your customers. You know, the people who pay your bills, cover the wages and hopefully leave you with some profit at the end of each month to continue the journey. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for creating a turbo charged, highly responsive company culture filled with enthusiastic young people who just can’t wait to walk in the door of your premises each day who are eager to serve and to smile, but at what point does the expectation of employee entitlement get in the way of good old fashioned personal responsibility and accountability? You see I am beginning to lose patience with the self absorbed, “I’m too busy checking my i-phone or chatting with my work colleagues to look up and acknowledge you as you walk in the door, let alone serve you” attitude that is becoming the rule not the exception in our retail environments of the new millennium. And this doesn’t only apply to those staff under twenty five either, though it does seem to be more prevalent mainly due to their over-representation in that category of employment. No wonder our retailers are fast losing business to the no frills but highly convenient and instantly responsive on line internet purchase. And it doesn’t end with the retail market either. I am equally tired of talking to unhelpful call center staff who struggle to understand my request or make sense with their advice to me, but never forget to tell me to “have a nice day” at the conclusion of our mutually frustrating conversation, all in the name of streamlined (read ‘cheaper’) service provision.

Just under twenty years ago I was one of those eager business owners who had got the bug of the empowered workforce. Ours was a workforce made up of the early Gen Yers of the mid to late nineties. We introduced meaningful KPIs for all of the staff from our first year apprentices right through to the seniors. We underpinned those metrics with weekly personal bonuses to supplement award wages as well as monthly shared team bonuses which were transferred to the staff social fund on a regular basis. And we found many opportunities to celebrate and share the ‘fun’ around as a result. We also introduced ‘open book management’ which entrusted all of our staff with full disclosure of our monthly income and gross profit and loss results so that they knew exactly the contribution they were making to the viability of the business which secured their employment. We held one-on-ones on a regular basis to help nurture and develop their personal growth and conducted weekly trainings to increase their skills. We also held weekly team meetings to give and receive open and constructive feedback as well as give recognition to those who were perceived deserving of praise for the week that had just passed. Plus we had annual staff conferences where everyone was invited to a different resort each year for a weekend of dialogue and planning and a chance to chill out over a sumptuous evening meal.

Oh and did I add that at our annual Christmas party, monetary awards of recognition were handed out to various top achievers for sustained excellence, with the ultimate award being an all expenses paid study tour overseas the following year for one lucky recipient? And if anyone was underperforming or not demonstrating supportive behaviour to their fellow team members, we went out of our way to give them structured feedback in accordance with proper HR practices, which we had learnt from government-endorsed training courses. Needless to say, our workplace procedures and facilities were also designed and implemented in strict accordance with OH&S practices including an annual inspection by an appropriately authorised external inspector.

What didn’t we do in our desire to create the model small business workplace consisting of four stand alone team based locations? During the nineties, the work that we did to create an engaged, empowered and productive workforce was probably years ahead of its time for a reasonably sized, privately owned SME like ours. The various national and state awards that we won for total customer service and retail excellence bore testimony to our endeavours and our achievements.

‘So what’s the catch?’ I hear you saying.

It all went swimmingly well for the first half a dozen years or so of our ten years at the coalface from start-up to sustained profitability. But as the years folded from the mid nineties into the new millennium, increasingly the sense of entitlement, the encroachment on the workplace of smart phones and other technological distractions, and the constant siren call of weekend partying started to take hold and damage our carefully nurtured workplace environment. Old hands moved on and younger hands began to drift on to the scene who were more focused on their social networks, their weekend parties and coming down on Monday morning from the exhausting effects of recreational drug-taking the days before, than the perceived benefits of a stable work environment or a caring employer. Empowerment began to be replaced by self absorption and the concept of thinking long term only lasted as far as the next week’s pay check. In time I reached a point where I questioned what was the point anymore?

What we had attempted to create years ahead of its time was always part of a vision that was bigger than just the bottom line, although that was important. In the end I just lost heart and sold out and happily moved on to other things which did not rely on the goodwill of an increasingly self indulgent workforce.

Cynical and burned out you may say? Heavens no. Instead I transferred my energies to helping businesses and corporations find the missing link to sustained profits and an empowered workforce where both are not mutually exclusive.

There is a happy ending though. In the ensuing years since my journey of profitable, award winning, values-driven private business, I have discovered the missing ingredient. All of this wonderful work where companies endeavour to create and nurture a happy, productive and openly responsive workplace culture, can only be effective if they start with the most basic premise of all.

HIRE ATTITUDE and then TRAIN SKILL.

And that is why I now specialise at the deep end of ‘motivational fingerprinting’ for selection, coaching and employee development.

Without the right people in the right roles who are committed to contributing to an open and supportive workplace culture, you may as well be casting pearls before swine.

If you start with thoroughly investigating and adapting the hiring strategies you use to select and promote both externally and internally, then you have a chance to make a real difference. If you don’t then you are making a rod for your own back, no matter how well intentioned you may be as an employer.

Next time I will share with you a case study that addresses exactly that issue at the corporate level.

Until then… Let’s seek to understand more and judge less.   Have a great week – Brian

Precision Profiling – What Makes You Tick?  Through ‘Motivational Fingerprinting’ we uncover what you do, how you do it and why you do it, and most importantly, the hidden patterns that lead to your success, and that of your staff.

About Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the principal director of Precision Profiling®.

He is a renowned practitioner, writer and speaker on building total customer cultures; values driven leadership and world best practice strategy and implementation.

He has been a guest lecturer on world best practice for the executive management programme at Monash University’s business college (Mt Eliza campus); an adviser to and key note speaker for the Singapore Productivity Association and a consultant to many major Australian and overseas corporations and government departments.

Read more about Brian Clark Here

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