Hank Darlington: People are your most valuable asset
I just finished reading the most recent digital copy of this fine publication. In there, Supply House Times Chief Editor Mike Miazga reviewed the various association and trade meetings he attended in January and February (almost 12,000 miles of flying), and mentioned one of the speakers at the Omni buying group conference talked about why people are your most important asset.
I agree wholeheartedly with this statement and philosophy. It also made me reflect back to my very first job in our industry. My first boss at a large PHCP distributor back east told me, “The plumbing/HVAC wholesale business is the easiest business in the world. There only are two main assets — accounts receivables and inventory. Manage these well and you’ll be successful.”
It didn’t take me long to realize he had missed the most important asset of all — the employees of the company. As I grew into managerial roles with two large distributors and then when I owned my own showroom business, I did everything I could possibly do to treat my employees (the “people”) as the most important asset of my business. That important strategy helped me be successful!
For those of you who read this publication on a regular basis, you’ve seen me reiterate in several articles that if you want to operate the very best company and showroom, your employees are your No. 1 key to success. Back in 2002 I wrote a series of five articles (September 2002-January 2003 — in the Supply House Times archives) where I said if you want to be the best, you must: Hire the best, train the best, communicate the best, motivate the best and compensate the best.
If you agree with me that your employees truly are your most important asset, you need to practice the above five “bests.” If anything, in the 16 years since I wrote the above-mentioned articles I have come to believe your employees are more important to your success than ever before!
Here’s a quote from Ann Muleahy, the former chairperson and CEO of Xerox: “Employees are a company’s greatest asset. They are your competitive edge. You want to attract and retain the best, provide them with encouragement, stimulate and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.”
Your company/showroom will only ever be as strong as your weakest link (in terms of employees). Every employee has a magnified impact whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. Therefore, it is vital to engage with your employees — motivate the winners; train the stragglers and lose those who might be causing your customers and/or teammates more harm than good.
Here’s an example of the weakest link: I owned a pretty nice fishing boat. I kept it on a buoy out in front of our house. I had just replaced an older chain on the buoy with a brand-new chain. The very first time the wind came up, the chain broke and the boat started to float away. That brand-new chain — heavier than it needed to be, had one bad (weak) link. It broke, leaving all those other strong links pretty useless. So, if you have any weak links on your team, you better fix them or make them go away.
You can have the very best products, but if you have weak employees, customers will go somewhere else. On the other hand, even if your products aren’t the very best, but your employees are, you’re customers will remain loyal.
People buy from people!
In my parents’ generation, people took a job for life and I believe the companies they worked for recognized their employees were their most important asset. There was a strong bond of loyalty that existed between employers and employees. In my opinion, that relationship, in current times, most likely is gone forever.
So with this huge change in both the employer and employee mentality, what can you do to show your employees they are your most important asset? First, go back and look at the “Five Bests” I wrote about back in 2002 and put those into practice. You must devote time and attention to create an environment in which the people on your teams can flourish. When they flourish, you must take measures to ensure they are protected and well-cared for because that’s what good managers do with their most celebrated and valuable assets.
If you were an art collector or had some vintage cars, you would go the extra mile in protecting these valuable assets. Unfortunately, there are managers who acknowledge their employees are their most valuable asset, but they don’t always treat them well, or protect them the way they do their personal material assets.
Put it to the test
If you believe there is room for you to improve how you manage your most valuable asset, then you must create a workforce that is engaged and productive. Here are a few things you might try:
Your future vision must be fully developed so they understand it: Your customer-service delivery goals and objectives must be communicated to every level of employee in the organization. Every team member must clearly understand their role in the delivery of exceptional service.
An “upside-down “view of the organization must be adopted: Your customers are at the top, those who work with customers are next and those who work to support those who work with customers follow them. If you are a boss, you are at the bottom — a servant leader.
You must evaluate your current level of customer service and satisfaction: You must develop systems and programs that incorporate measurement and feedback that continually monitors the “customer experience.”
Incentives: New ways of measuring and rewarding employee performance will be required in order to motivate frontline personnel and achieve performance.
Awareness programs must be put into place to help educate the team regarding this shift in prerogative: This will let them know what is expected of them in the new work environment.
The management team must promote this culture shift through its actions: They must provide leadership. Be ambassadors of change and be in full support of the staff that serves the customer base.
Embrace learning and growth: Your employees need to know you value them as much as you do any customer. One way to show them is to invest in their professional development. When you ensure they have the skills and information they need to perform well in their jobs, they will know you care.
Please try this exercise
Here’s a fun exercise we used at our business and shared with several of our consulting clients. The purpose was to get each team member invested in helping the whole team be the very best that they could be. We called our program “Hero of the Week.” I’ve also seen it called “Caught You at Your Best.” We asked each employee to be aware of any and all extra steps that they or another employee did to deliver exceptional service to a customer.
Every employee was encouraged to recognize, thank or acknowledge another employee for doing something exceptional. This was to be done regardless of whether it was for a customer, a vendor or a fellow employee. We encouraged a verbal “thank-you,” “great job,” etc. Even better, we suggested a written note. We asked them to provide specific detail about the praiseworthy behavior or attitude.
We wanted this to be “awarded” as soon as possible after the activity occurred. Every employee was eligible to receive recognition and every employee was empowered to give recognition. It’s always nice when the boss notices something good, but when coworkers notice and take time to write about their observations, it helps foster great esprit de corp. This helps make every member of the team want to succeed.
It’s time for organizations to recognize valuing employees must come full-circle. Your people are your most valuable asset in securing the future of the business. Just imagine what your organization could accomplish with everyone in the boat actively rowing in the same direction. Employees who feel valued gladly will compete in the race, help overcome the competition, cross the finish line first and end up on the medal stand.