Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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The key to creating great employees

It’s hard to forget your first job learning office protocol, building a rapport with the team, impressing your boss and meeting the ever-intimidating CEO. You may have felt eager to be noticed or eager to just blend in — either way, there were likely moments of discomfort that you do not want to revisit anytime soon.

Similarly, you may recall the moment you first engaged with your mentor. The way that person took you under his or her wing, made you feel confident and inspired you to become the  leader you are today.

As leaders, we all want to be like our mentors but are cognizant of the intimidation factor that often comes with being a CEO.  It’s no secret that the best teams are made up of happy people who feel respected, appreciated and challenged in the workplace. I have experienced first hand how connecting with people makes them feel at ease in the workplace and much happier and therefore more productive.

Paul Damico, president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill recently told SmartBusiness his strategy for developing his workforce is creating relationships.  Below are some of the ways
this CEO builds relationships with his employees and stays plugged into his organization.

The best meetings are one on one

One way I connect with a team is by having one-on-one meetings with associates at all levels of the organization. As a rule, no one says no to a one-on-one. As the name implies, it is a face-to-face meeting with just me.  It provides a dedicated time to discuss ideas, feedback, goals, personal development or anything the associate wishes to discuss.  When someone within the organization, whether it’s me, a member of the executive team or an associate, requests a one-on-one, all parties know that no one is ‘in trouble,’ as is often assumed when you’re called into the boss’s office.

Not only are these meetings helpful for the team but also for me to keep my finger on the pulse, offer recognition, provide coaching and/or hear great suggestions.

Live the open-door policy

On my office door I have a sign that reads ‘This wood panel may look closed, but it’s open — no, really, come in.’ I want to be sure everyone knows, quite literally, that I have an open-door policy. I want the team to feel free to pop their heads in and ask a question or pull me into an impromptu meeting at any time.

I have found that the team can run faster and leaner with this policy in place. We can make decisions and go through the proper approval channels in a speedy manner when we eliminate the need to have a meeting to discuss setting up a meeting for another meeting. We’ve all been there.

Get personal

Another way I connect with my team members is by making the effort to get to know every one of them personally. I make it a goal to ask them about their personal lives, interests, families and goals. In fact, when we do our annual goal-planning sessions, we ask that associates include personal goals on their list. We find that if you’re fulfilled outside of work, you’ll be happier
on the job. A happy associate is, more often than not, a more productive one.

Mi casa es su casa

I think one of the most effective ways to instantly break down the barriers between myself and the members of my team is to open up my home. When we have company parties, I like to host them at my house with my family. When possible, we have the team invite their spouses, and we keep the vibe very laid back.

One of the guiding values at Moe’s Southwest Grill is to be yourself. We go out of our way to ensure everyone feels comfortable to do just that.

Next time you see the newest member of your team quietly lingering outside your office door, tell them to come in, just like your mentor may have done to you many years ago, and get to know them. And if all else fails, you can always just hang a sign on the door.

 


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Boost your bottom line…Invest in your people

As the economy slowly recovers, it’s no secret that companies would like to boost productivity and profits. Many think the best way to do so is to slash costs.  Well Joan Blades co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where, and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line, thinks otherwise.   She suggests paying your employees more.

In her article she writes of the growing body of evidence that shows that companies that pay fair wages, and offer flexibility and training to entry-level and lower-skilled employees, do better than those that don’t. A vast number of businesses mistakenly assume that their lowest-wage workers are easily replaced or not worth investing in, but those that do the right thing soon find that they’re doing the right thing for their bottom lines. It’s time that this becomes a business norm.

Certainly, in tough times, higher wages, profit-sharing and training seem like optional perks. But here’s the other side of the story: When you invest in people, they respond by performing well. In her rigorously researched book, Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder, Jody Heymann presents a well-documented lineup of businesses that have flourished in large part because their management practices include respecting and empowering their lowest-paid workers. Jenkins Brick, a major U.S. brick manufacturer in Alabama, credits higher wages and profit-sharing with increased productivity and quality, as well as reduced turnover and lowered accident rates. Dancing Deer, a Boston-based high-end baked goods company, opens the financial books, and makes training and stock options available to all employees because they are convinced that this gives the firm a competitive advantage. Specifically, management credits these practices with improving sales, boosting productivity and helping them attract talent.

Perhaps a more well-known example is Costco. The company pays more for an entry-level position than Sam’s Club (Wal-Mart‘s wholesale branch), gives even part-time workers at least a week’s notice about their schedules and offers all employees the option of getting on the management track. Costco also makes thousands of dollars more per employee than Sam’s Club, which suggests their investment pays off. Costco is so convinced that its policy is sound that it has kept paying better wages than rivals, even as Wall Street has pressured the company to conform to industry standards. Trader Joe‘s is another large company known for paying its entry-level workers well and benefiting as a result.

Yet despite the strong evidence we have that an employee who is paid fairly and treated respectfully will significantly outperform an employee who is underpaid and ordered around like a child, too many employers are unable to resist the apparent bargain of paying less per hour or buck the traditions of an authoritarian work culture. They tell themselves that standing at a cash register, working in an assembly line, or answering phones is so simple that anyone can do it — that workers doing these jobs can easily be replaced. And this shortsighted approach costs them. Simple math does not capture the human dynamics.

As an employer, I can personally bear witness to both the quantifiable and the more subtle benefits of treating everyone in the workplace with respect and dignity. The people who answered the phone and greeted visitors at our front desk at Berkeley Systems, the software company I co-founded, were at the bottom of our pay scale, but we knew that they also created people’s first impressions of our organization. If they felt downtrodden, the first impression of our business was likely to be merely adequate. We needed the first face of our business to be enthusiastic and helpful.

At MomsRising.org, an advocacy group working for greater economic security for families, we offer flexible work hours, ask each member of our team to contribute to our decision-making processes, and look for pathways for our entry-level positions to grow into roles with more responsibility.

It’s time for employers to see the big picture and embrace the benefits of creating a great workplace for all of their employees. They will be rewarded with a happier, more productive and robust workforce, a better bottom line and the satisfaction of participating in the transformation of modern work culture to a culture of dignity.


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“Our company’s greatest asset is our people!”

How many times have you heard this?  It’s a nice saying, but it’s meaningless without introspection and application. And the truth is, people aren’t your greatest asset, unless they’re in position to leverage their greatest strengths – those things they do well consistently and energetically.

Years of research have proven that individuals and teams playing to their strengths significantly outperform those who don’t in almost every business metric. In fact, the single best predictor of a consistently high-performing team is the answer to this question: “At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?” Teams with individuals who do, massively outperform teams with people who don’t.  They are more profitable, more productive, less likely to quit, less likely to have accidents on the job and the list goes on.

That’s compelling, but this is confounding: Research reveals that only 12% of people in the workplace play to their strengths “most of the time.” Could it be we take strengths for granted?

At a time when organizations are trying to do more with fewer people, it’s critical to engage each person’s strengths, and do it at all levels across the organization. The strengths movement isn’t about making people happier; it’s about making organizations more productive. It’s about yield. The best companies are made up of great teams. And those teams have individuals who know their strengths, take them seriously and offer them up to the organization.