We have always known that our bottom line is directly linked to our frontline’s efforts: they fulfill the promises made daily by ownership, management and the sales force. Often it is the overall performance of our operations that gives us those small percentages of profit so necessary for success in our industry. Long overdue, but still welcome is the recognition that training and educating our frontline is a profitable endeavor.
Up to now, the largest part of the training dollar has been spent on the sales force or management. Now we realize that the margin for success and failure lies in our frontline people - not only in the service that they give to the customer, but the real difference they make on our ability to be profitable.
When I present a program, I always ask the frontline people: “How many pennies out of a dollar does your company actually net on the bottom line?” I’ve heard everything from 55 cents down to 15 cents on the dollar. After an explanation of how we get to the bottom line figure, faces are filled with shock and surprise. The shoulders become more upright and heads carried more highly when they find out how and how much the success or failure of the company depends on their work and daily decisions. Once they understand how many of any certain item has to be sold to replace a damaged or wasted item the truth can be seen on their faces. Their need to access and understand information on the cost of goods and the replacement costs are key to their participating in the success of a company.
Why don’t the people in operations understand the important contribution they make? We are not telling them and showing them how they can dramatically effect our success in the marketplace. We have a responsibility and duty to educate and train our front line for success.
To be more responsible and accountable the front line must first know the importance of their work. Often in the past I have heard it said that the need to know just isn’t there for them, however, to be successful we need all of our team members acting as an integral part of the grand plan . That can be accomplished by the mere inclusion of them in the information sharing and decision making process. Do they need to know how great their contributions are to the overall success? Yes. Do we see information sharing as a major carrier of trust? Yes we do!
When we spend our dollars on the frontline education the paybacks are immediate and fall directly to the bottom line. With the turnover rate high, and the cost of turnover alone at 23% of a salary the dollars add up quickly. If we do a good job of education and training, we have a greatly improved chance of keeping, growing and enjoying the fruits of our labor in the abilities of the future leaders of our business.
When we invest our education dollars on the frontline we are showing them that we share trust and have a greater range of expectation for their future. Long term commitment is shown by our actions. They literally shout out “You’re an important part of our present and future.”
If we show our frontline people that we care about them and the job they are doing by sharing information and educating them we are truly in a win/win situation.
Commitment is a natural outgrowth of trust, and trust is gained through the information sharing and the identification, recognition and involvement first by us, then reciprocally from our front line people.
I commend those companies who are changing their attitudes and involving the front line in their education and training. I would ask those who still believe there is no need to share financial information with your frontline people to ponder the effect of just your drivers let alone the tremendous impact of your operational people in you business.
We can literally take any dept. or group and easily affix the same type of numbers directly to their educational and financial impact on our dear friend The bottom line.
When I have the opportunity to discuss and educate, the outcome is usually a new self-esteem and awareness of the frontline importance to our long term success and a renewed commitment to those who have committed to their continuing education and training.
The bottom line is that every one of your teammates need to have at the least enough information to make a measurable difference to your company.
Driving up your educational budget for the front line will drive down your operating expenses and gives you a greater team to meet the challenges we face day to day in being as profitable as we can and should be in today’s work environment.
Operations and Sales – Two Teams or One?
Sales ordered it wrong, production pulled it wrong, or the driver delivered it wrong – any way you slice it, the customer lost and we are left with a mystery on our hands – Whodunit? Lets face it, it doesn’t matter to the customer how it got messed up, but it should matter to us. When I go on site, one of the most common topics I’m asked about is the adversarial relationship between the “inside” (sales, office,) and “outside” (operations) personnel. Discord is usually rooted in poor communication and a lack of the basic understanding that we are all customers of each other in our own companies. We have a much better chance of giving excellence in customer service if we understand that it takes every team member working together to insure our customers are receiving the service they expect from us - if not more than expected.
Most often the sale force is the promise maker while the operations personnel are the promise keepers. I have been fortunate to see this issue from both sides since I started working in our Industry as an outside yard worker before moving into a position inside and ultimately into Management.
I having spent untold days fulfilling the promises, both inside and outside. I can easily see the point made by the yard worker who insists that “those inside people just don’t care about us out here. They will say anything or agree to do whatever the customer wants without first consulting us to see if we can really do what they have already promised.” I too have sweated in the torrid heat or freezing cold spending countless hours putting together that rush order that must be built today only to see it moved off the delivery board to “down the road a few days”.
It is no less frustrating than when I have to explain to a salesperson that the load they promised at a certain time is not going to be delivered when expected. Too often we hear salespeople say: “Those yard apes really don’t understand that when the customer wants it they want it! I spent months prospecting to bring in that new customer and now I’ll lose them because they just don’t care.” The expressions of anger, frustration and disbelief are the same on both inside and outside:
View from the “outside”
View from the "inside"
Sound familiar? If not, you're doing a magnificent job of communication or you're not privy to what's really happening among your inside and outside personnel. These problems revolve around information sharing. So you may be asking yourself, what can we do? What we can do is talk about it!
When was the last time you had a production person attend your sales meeting? How about a salesperson at your production meetings?
What is your forum for honest disclosure between sales and production?
Do your production people ever ride with your salespeople to make a customer call? Has your salesperson gone on a delivery lately? Helped build a load?
Do you share your challenges and successes with each other at meetings?
Systems pressurized by miscommunication, unrealistic lead-times and lack of true teamwork will begin to combust with the added strain of the increased workloads and shortened timetables that good weather and growth are sure to bring. Procedures and standards work well for the bulk of the workflow, but it is when emergencies and special cases arise that tempers flare.
Honest communication is a great de-fuser; and, an occasional "perspective refresher" to view successful customer service as our bread and butter is needed as well. Everyone must understand that, where the customer is concerned, we're all on the same team.
Understanding that our teammates, whether outside or inside, are also our customers is essential a smooth and successful operation. With that in mind, information sharing, or honest communication is the best way to learn, understand and truly become a team.
I was speaking at a State Association Convention recently when this question came up: "I've done everything I can think of to get my employees to make empowered decisions, and they still won't. What can I do?" It’s the old "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink", and it is an issue of involvement. If you've been trying to give your employees the power to make good decisions, then think about enlisting their help in the process. They are the ones who can make your efforts a success.
There are no absolutes when the topic is involvement, but if the involvement process at your company is slow to start or needs readjusting, here are some aspects to think about:
It is important to remember that establishing the climate of involvement is on going. We readjust to new and challenging concerns with all aspects of our business continually. Did we really think the needs of our workforce would stand still? When was the last time you've had a new program for your team that you can say is truly for them?
One thing for sure is that if we can't involve our co-workers they will be going someplace that will. All too often we find that we have made the emotional and monetary deposits to gain committed people, then make withdrawals that deplete our accounts just as we begin to draw interest from our investment.
Retaining our team and having the involvement necessary to grow a healthy business is a pressing issue in these times of a tight labor market. When you lead that horse to water, is the water fresh, or at least palatable? Or could it be a mirage? If what you're currently trying to do isn't working, ask your employees: "why?" Get it "from the horses mouth".
Remain open to new ideas on how to keep up with your employees' need to be involved. If your efforts are not working, begin the repairs and reassessment today. When involvement is strong, empowered decisions come naturally. Through a continuous involvement process we create a pathway to successfully attain goals both individual and in business.
How Can I help?