In many ways, our business management articles are a lot like articles about tools. The difference is that the tools we discuss in business management are those used at the administrative end of the business. And they are only as good as the employees using them.
Most of the business tools described in this issue deal with streamlining operations and empowering employees with more in-depth customer information. Equipment data can be made available at the touch of a button, allowing field staff to drill down their data and spot developing trends.
Additional information made available to the person taking customers’ calls allows them to answer some questions knowledgably without having to ask someone else to give the customer a callback. This can be a huge benefit in both customer relations and time savings if applied correctly, by an owner or manager who doesn’t object to sharing information.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWEREvery industry has its share of business owners who do not like to share information with employees. Holding on to information, to them, is a sign of power. They have not yet realized the many benefits of empowering their own employees.
Giving the right information to employees helps them make decisions they believe to be in the customer’s best interest. Allowing them access to the information means the owner/manager trusts them to make the right decisions. The owner/manager who does not trust their decision-making skills will be still more reluctant to empower them with information.
Why would an owner/manager hire or retain people whose decision-making skills they do not trust? Sometimes they “inherit” them in a business acquisition. Sometimes the employees perform just well enough not to be let go (though perhaps they might be in the wrong position). And sometimes these owner/managers don’t trust many people at all beyond themselves. They may keep poor performers around in order to legitimize their belief that information should not be shared.
The issue of trust comes up frequently at many contractor meetings. At these, we have learned that owners who do not trust their employees probably don’t trust many other people in their world. It has something to do with the things they learned growing up. The good news, we are told, is that things that are learned can be unlearned.
The bad news is that in such an environment, better employees might get so frustrated that they decide to work for a contractor whose business style is more empowering. These employees feel more satisfied at a job where they feel that they are trusted, and they also have a degree of power over their own decisions. They don’t feel like they have to play games to get the information they need, just to do their job to their best ability.
HOARDERSIf empowering your employees with information scares the heck out of you, ask yourself what this may be doing to your business. Have you lost some good performers? Do people on staff hoard information? Do they willingly help each other? Their behavior may be a reflection of upper management’s style.
In our Best Contractor to Work For contest, we often hear stories from employees, now at the company of their preference, of their past experiences with former employers. Co-workers not coming to each other’s assistance, hoarding information, and being kept in the dark by the owner - good employees just don’t stick around under those conditions.
When they talk about their Best Contractor employers, their relief and loyalty are obvious. The feeling that they are part of a family - a healthy family - doesn’t just come from picnics and parties. It comes from the sharing of information, both through regular education opportunities and giving them access to customer information.
For those contractors who willingly share customer information and the ability to make decisions, those who empower their employees to go above and beyond to help customers with discretion, there are plenty of tools and services available to help them streamline their processes. A combination of the right hardware and software can open up new worlds of profit possibilities by giving employees more access to customer data.
Those contractors who have trust issues need not despair. Trust is learned, not instinctive. If you decide to dig a bit deeper into why you don’t trust the people in your world, you might turn up a bone or two that can make those people happier. Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks if the dog is willing to learn.
Publication date: 02/08/2010