Contractor Embraces The Gung Ho! Approach

May 5, 2002
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TEMPE, AZ — As noted in the article on page 12, Ken Blanchard, Ph.D., was the keynote speaker at the recent Contractors 2000 Super Meeting XXI. He discussed ways in which companies could implement ideas from his book Gung Ho! Turn on the People in any Organization, in order to make their companies more employee-friendly as well as more profitable.

But is it really possible to implement Blanchard’s techniques? And if so, how difficult is it? Those are some of the questions that were answered by employees (or coworkers, as they like to be called) of Secco Inc., Camp Hill, PA, during an afternoon panel discussion at the Super Meeting.

SPIRIT OF THE SQUIRREL

Secco Inc. is a contracting company that specializes in a/c, heating, commercial refrigeration, indoor air quality (IAQ), duct cleaning and sanitation, electrical construction, and voice and data cabling. The company was founded in 1969 and currently has 90 coworkers in three divisions: Building Services, Mechanical Services, and Home Services.

Several years ago, president Barry Kindt decided to implement the Gung Ho! approach in his company. He started in the Building Services and Mechanical Services divisions and recently started the program in the Home Services Division.

Why did Kindt feel the need to make changes at his company? “I was frustrated trying to convey my commitment to my people,” he says. “I needed to share what was going on with other people, and get the big weight off my chest.”

Kindt started with the first principle of Gung Ho!, which is the “Spirit of the Squirrel.” Blanchard says you can understand this concept by watching a bunch of squirrels work: All of them are working toward a shared goal (e.g., storing food for winter). He also lists two other “squirrel” aspects:

1. Knowing that we make the world a better place; and

2. Values guiding all plans, decisions, and actions.

To implement this approach, Kindt and his management team of Brian Stright and Bruce Seilhammer came up with a new set of values and also created a bonus plan. “That raised our credibility with our employees,” says Kindt.

Unfortunately, the new values didn’t suit all the employees and Secco experienced a high turnover for a while. Stright notes, “We had a lot of people pointing fingers at other people and others who

didn’t want to take responsibility. However, one of our employees had the right attitude, and we had him talk to the apprentices about how we do things here. The other people just found other jobs.”

To emulate the squirrel, companies should first check their existing systems (e.g., bookkeeping, financials) to make sure they work. Also, come up with a set of core values. Then, be ready for turnover — these values won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Finally, start driving down your responsibility a little at a time.

THE WAY OF THE BEAVER

After implementing the Spirit of the Squirrel, Kindt moved into Blanchard’s next phase, “The Way of the Beaver.” This means being in control of achieving the goal.

Imagine a group of beavers building a dam. You can’t tell who the head beaver is. They’re all working together to accomplish a goal. If one beaver needs help, others come to its aid to finish the task.

Blanchard notes, “People want to work in an organization that trains them to be in control and to make decisions. You need to put the power with the people.”

And that’s what Secco did. “It’s damn scary to relinquish power,” says Kindt. “But if you think about it, you never really had the power to begin with — the people have the power, and they need to be trained to be empowered.”

To implement the Beaver, leaders need to come up with a clearly marked territory (the vision). Blanchard has a great way in which to think about a vision: A river without banks is a large puddle. If you don’t have a vision, you have a puddle. Sielhammer says that as management, they act as the banks of the river, guiding the river but never impeding it.

After coming up with the vision, it’s necessary to make sure the thoughts, feelings, needs, and dreams of employees are respected, listened to, and acted upon (basically, people should be able to bring who they are to work). Finally, challenge employees by making them important.

Visit other companies and see what they’re doing to make their employees happy and keep their profits up. Then open your books to your employees and start a bonus plan. Don’t be afraid to keep pushing responsibility down.

Finally, give your people the freedom to fail.

THE GIFT OF THE GOOSE

After the squirrel and beaver are well under way, that’s when the fun can begin. That’s when it’s time to start what Blanchard calls “The Gift of the Goose.”

Look at a formation of geese flying across the sky. The entire time they’re flying, they’re honking. Blanchard believes it’s because they’re cheering each other on. That becomes the role of the management team once employees are trained and empowered.

“Once you set the direction for people and prepare them to be in charge, they want to be in an environment that cheers them on,” says Blanchard.

Secco encourages its people by having team meetings. “The foremen tell us what people have done, and we’ll put people’s accomplishments up on a board and cheer them. The foremen tell us that increases productivity because people want to be recognized,” says Stright.

“We also leave congratulatory voice mail messages for people. That’s almost as important as the cash [from bonuses],” says Kindt. “We also thank people for jobs well done while we’re walking down the hall. Make sure you make eye contact when you do this.”

It’s also important to vary the honk of the goose, says Blanchard, or else the message can become stale. “We reward in a multitude of ways,” says Kindt. “Sometimes we give time off or a gift certificate to a restaurant. We can do those things quickly. We’re also reworking our bonus plan to go to a point system, because we realized cash isn’t everything.”

One of the fun things the company does is to occasionally tape a $20 bill under one of the seats at their monthly meetings. After finishing some business, someone will announce that a person in the room has money under their seat. (This was done at the C2000 conference. You should’ve seen those contractors dive under their seats looking for money!)

As Sielhammer notes, “You need to keep it different, keep it spontaneous. You want that feeling you get when we say ‘There’s money under the seat.’”

Implementing these principles has worked well for Secco, as verified by their employees who discussed the changes via videotape at the conference. Stright noted that customers are now commenting about how well the coworkers perform their jobs, and the company’s name recognition has increased accordingly.

Kindt notes, “Everyone is aware of the goals, and they know they have to make it happen. I’m merely there to support them.”

Publication date: 05/06/2002

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