This month’s Business Article:
As entrepreneurs, leaders, managers and humans, we instinctively seek to identify problems. The bigger ones are usually easier to identify, and once they are, you can start to address them. While solving the problems may not be easy, at least you have a sense of what needs to be done and can take action. The smaller problems, however, are often hidden, overlooked or simply ignored. “It’s just the way it is,” is a common refrain. Another common excuse is: “It’s always been done this way.” The solutions, however, typically rest on your shoulders if you are a business owner. If you are not going to call the shots, who will?
It doesn’t have to be that way. With an engaged staff, you have an army that is not only ready to address whatever issues your business may face, but also poised to identify opportunities to grow and improve. Creating an employee experience that is uplifting, rewarding and meaningful makes them more engaged in their work and the business itself, giving them a sense of real ownership in its success. In the bestseller The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg tells the story of how former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill brought Alcoa back from the brink of failure by engaging the entire company (tens of thousands of people at sites around the world) in achieving a singular purpose—zero accidents resulting in a loss of work time. Workers went beyond simply identifying issues that could lead to such accidents, which is vital in and of itself, and began identifying other opportunities for the company to grow and become even more successful.
We tend to believe that employees want more pay, better benefits or added responsibility to be happier at work. It is true that we must compensate our employees fairly for the work they do and the value they bring. But by and large, what employees want most is a sense of accomplishment. In the February 2013 issue of Inc. Magazine, Harvard Business School professor and co-author of The Progress Principle Teresa Amabile notes, “Of all the things that contribute to a happy workday, the one thing that stands out … is making progress on meaningful work. Feeling like you are able to move forward on a daily basis engenders real joy.”
This philosophy leads to a simple equation: happy employees = happy customers. Harvard professor Francis Frei has done some remarkable research and teaching in this area. You can get great insight into her work from her book Uncommon Service, co-authored with Anne Morriss, where they recount successes at such companies as Zappos, Rackspace and Southwest Airlines, among others. These companies succeed because they are able to deliver a much higher level of service than most of their competitors. And they have much higher employee satisfaction rates as well.
Establishing the culture
True engagement starts with your culture. We normally associate business culture with large organizations (and not always in a good way). But even if it is just you, setting this framework is vital because it allows you to inform everyone, internally and externally, what is important to you. The culture at PCA SKIN® truly reflects what we value—intellectual curiosity (a constant thirst for learning), an enthusiasm for serving others, and the highest standards of ethics and values. This is just a start. To be considered for our team, you must demonstrate these values, as well as be able to push our existing culture forward, making all of us better. It is no small task.
Once you have articulated what you want the culture to be, you must repeat it often and have little to no tolerance for deviation from it. The repetition is a constant reminder of what you want the business to be. While it will be somewhat repetitive by definition, it will hold its meaning when you are able to use specific examples of the culture in action.
When your team comes to work every day, do they do so with a sense of purpose? Hint: Being more profitable or creating more value for you as the owner does little to give meaning to their work. For example, the core of Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It is a lofty goal, yet it is entirely attainable. Every day, Google workers can have a real feeling of accomplishment as they strive to achieve this. Create a vision for your practice in terms of what it will mean for your customers. With each person coming through the door, your staff will know what they want to achieve with the treatment, and feel a deep satisfaction when they deliver those results. What could be more empowering?
The most efficient and least costly way to bring new members onto the team is to hire someone who needs no additional training. This is not the most effective. If you want to get the most out of your team and enable them (and your business) to reach their potential, invest in their training. For example, seek opportunities for them to expand their knowledge base, learn new protocols and get a deeper understanding of skin physiology. All of these steps will allow them to be more successful in the treatment room, delivering better results for your customers, not to mention your bottom line. When it comes to investing in your staff’s training, there are often concerns about individuals leaving to go somewhere else, and a feeling of having “wasted” money on training them. This can be a legitimate fear; however, if you are building the right culture, hiring well and instilling a real sense of purpose in your employees’ work, they are far less likely to leave. In fact, they will be much more loyal, wanting to stay and prosper.
“Get caught being good”
As mentioned earlier, we often find ourselves triaging issues, seeking to correct things that have gone wrong. This is an important aspect of running a business. But when you want more engagement from your team, it’s not enough. In addition to the seemingly constant troubleshooting, look for bright spots. The school my kids attended put it another way: “Get caught being good.” This sounds easier than it is because it forces us to pay attention to what our team is doing, and to make the time to recognize the effort and the outcomes. When I do this, I have found that the best form of communication is a handwritten note. The next best option is a face-to-face conversation. An email or a phone call will also suffice, but these forms of communication are not nearly as impactful to the recipient.
We all have lives and interests outside of work. These give us further meaning and purpose as individuals. Nurture that. Find ways to support your employees’ interests. Perhaps there is a volunteer organization of great importance to a team member, or maybe there is a local non-profit you can support by donating free services. Forming these connections in the community is a smart business move, and very rewarding.
Having put all this effort into creating an excellent employee experience and engaging them further in your business, you would be remiss not to conduct periodic performance reviews. This can happen on a quarterly, semi-annual or annual basis (any more or less frequently is counterproductive). The majority of the review needs to focus on how well the employee demonstrates the culture, lives the purpose and performs in the role. It will be most helpful to use specific comments and examples for each element of performance as opposed to a rating system. For example, saying, “Jane sought out and learned a new protocol for treating aging acneic skin and made a point to share what she learned with her co-workers,” is much more powerful and useful than rating someone as a “4” or circling that she does something “almost always.”
The most effective performance reviews will be a learning experience for both of you, identifying opportunities for improvement and illuminating concerns that need to be addressed. It also shows that you have been paying attention to their work and have noticed how they interact with the team and customers. It also shows that you are focused on what you have established and recognize its importance to the business.
Theory and practice
This article has covered the theory behind creating employee experience, supported by examples you can implement right away. But theory isn’t practice. Creating greater engagement with your employees takes work. Your staff won’t engage or have a great experience (nor will your customers) if you only talk about it or try to say the right things. As a former colleague of mine was fond of saying, “After all is said and done, more is often said than done.” You must establish the culture. You need to give your employees purpose and meaning in their work. You have to act.
Chris McCrory is the COO of PCA SKIN®. He previously served as the chief financial officer and brand oversight director for the company. McCrory spent four years as the director of professional and public education for the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency, and filled several leadership roles at Sazerac Company, Inc. McCrory received his M.B.A. from the University of Kentucky, and is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School Executive Education Program.
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