The Power Of People

Dec 2, 2009

The aftermarket is a special place where the small businessperson’s mantra is about people and profits, as they take aim in a new financial world that frequently controls their destiny.

Business leaders and managers are challenged as never before to address a myriad of issues that reach far beyond the single profit motive. Within the new business world are indeterminate financial swings, people issues as well as sustainability considerations.

The keys are just to survive, just to profit, just to keep control of the issues plaguing the small aftermarket enterprise ripping up the asphalt.

Yes, we are facing the challenges of growth and are required to sharpen our tools of communication. In doing so, we are better-positioned to meet the likes of banks, supply chains, employee morale and engagement, as well as our internal societal issues that are rising to the forefront as core business issues. The entrepreneur within each of us must dance to the beat of a new drum.

Within recent years we have grown accustomed to the view that growth is for everyone, with easy money available, borrowing power at the stroke of a pen, and friendly bankers able to provide the needed expansion capital to ensure virtually guaranteed sustainability. The aftermarket was vertical, and veteran and rookie gear-head businesspersons alike were making it.

Small company adjustments, errors in ordering judgment or allocating dollars in a wrong direction were more easily dealt with and rectified.

Today, if a small aftermarket company be it a manufacturer, WD or jobber makes a serious error, such as overlooking an important market or failing to change its products to meet shifting customer needs, it may in fact lead to disaster. It simply does not have a sufficient financial cushion to absorb the shock.

What Can You Do?

Given the enormous complexity and challenges before us, what can the small aftermarket business do?

Regardless of your role, function, position or company, what can you do? How can business leaders and managers create a better balance between the needs of people and profit in both the short- and long-term?

As a step forward on the journey to a more sustainable business model, it is a simple recommendation to begin to move toward a new sustainability business paradigm one that focuses on creating a better balance between social, environmental and economic factors.

The framework of your business depends on redeveloping a solid discipline of organizational skills, doable generalizations and taking steps forward in understanding your business footprint, capturing what may be hindering your progress and filling the gaps between communication and employee engagement.

No easy task, but extremely important for survival. Principle to the 2009 aftermarket business world is to reflect on your company, department and employee skill sets, which are your cornerstone for future development. As such, you’ll see if the values and alignment are practical and can interface with various external outside influences.

The initial aspect to survival is to increase your employee return on investment (ROI).

As we look at the drivers in building a business, it is apparent that product is critical, as is pricing, distribution, competitive edge and even packaging. But the obvious determining asset to profits and sustainability is frequently overlooked: the employee.

Employee retention is a key to growth, both in short- and long-term scenarios. As such it is also critical that employees are in sync with their company’s goals and not just filling space and not being part of the organizational framework.

Frequently we look at an employee to fill a slot, but we don’t provide much inner communication or guidance, and reflect on the resume as a benchmark for the person’s strong suits and weaknesses. But, do we truly understand the challenge of building our concerns without taking a look at the employee ROI?

Shops of all sizes misplace the actual environmental needs, motivation, and creative interaction between owner, manager, rep and the internal person, forgetting that a miscue can cause your economic ROI to erode because you may have missed the steps necessary to make the relationship work.

Thus the steps necessary to combat the economy may be right at your fingertips the person becomes the profit center, the employee becomes your best tool, the employee is your warrior. And, with pride, you now can approach each day with a new attitude because you’ll have taken the steps needed to make your business run at the speed of business.

Fostering Employee Growth

Business cycles are as much about attitude as the economy. It doesn’t matter whether your business is a small manufacturing shop or a multi-store aftermarket retailer; the employee remains your front line in combating the hurdles of the economy.

The following are a series of recommended steps to foster the kind of growth-oriented workplace that will survive and thrive even during a downturn.

Forget monetary incentives and focus on relationships.

Even if you can offer your employees competitive salaries or more vacation time, the perks will not increase employee loyalty. Instead, they tend to tie people to your company in the same manner that one trains a dog to stay in the yard until the people across the street offer a bigger, juicier bone.

Creating a culture in which good relationships are valued gives employees a profound and rewarding reason to come to work every day. Only through relationships can people change and grow and personal growth is a requirement for survival in our increasingly complex economy.

Help employees find their familiars.

What is a familiar you ask? Simply put, it’s an emotional state we return to again and again. It is a feeling that holds tremendous power over our choices, relations, and careers.

Rooted in our families and our upbringing, the familiar is a feeling that we unconsciously reproduce, sometimes to our benefit, but often to our detriment. You can help your employees tremendously by learning about familiars and encouraging them to identify them and thus improve your mutual understandings.

Seek employee input.

A big part of creating a growth-oriented workplace is to constantly question your employees. “Did you notice what you did there?” “Why do you think you said that?” “I noticed that when your position was challenged in the meeting, you didn’t defend it why do you think you backed down?”

Creating a question culture will help employees identify their familiars. It will raise performance expectations throughout the company. It will train employees to think carefully about how they do their jobs and ensure that they have sound reasons for every decision they make.

Encourage conflict and confrontation.

Yes, you read that right. Conflict and confrontation are rarely pleasant, but they are the very definition of teamwork. They are also necessary to create growth relationships.

The purpose of the workplace is not to make everyone happy it is to grow people to their maximum potential. The enormous popularity of consensus decision making/negotiation, participatory management and self-directed work teams is a sign of our unhealthy quest for comfort above all.

Provide honest, caring feedback.

Keep the lines of communication open by continually telling your employees how they are doing. A relationship without honest feedback is a mutual toleration society. Unconditioned acceptance in both personal and professional relationships is actually a form of abandonment, because it robs the other party of the most important catalysts for growth and change hence the reason the feedback is labeled “caring.”

Practice the art of self-disclosure.

Feedback cuts both ways you want your employees to provide it to you as well. One way to do so is through self-disclosure.

If you want to turn a stagnant employee relationship into a growth-oriented one or start a new relationship out on the right foot share your feelings first. This is a big risk, because you don’t know how the other person will respond; you must be prepared to deal with any type of reaction you receive. But it’s worth taking because you can learn a lot from your employees.

Self-disclose often and you’ll model the kind of relationships you want to encourage in your company.

Form an accountability group.

Many people fear receiving or giving feedback because they don’t want to show weakness or cause discomfort to someone else. Put them in the right setting, however, and they may be willing to become involved.

In an accountability group, people give and receive feedback, create action plans based on that feedback, and hold group members accountable for implementing their plans. I have found accountability groups to be amazingly effective in helping clients overcome debilitating work and personal problems. Done correctly, they can lead individuals and organizations of all sizes to transform themselves from the inside out.

I am certain the actions detailed here will increase your company’s productivity. People who are personally fulfilled make better employees it’s that simple.

But the big reason to implement their strategies has more to do with tomorrow than today. Creating a work environment rich with opportunities for self-discovery is an investment in the future of your enterprise.

Begin now, and when the economy rebounds, your employees won’t leave you for greener pastures. Why would they? Your aftermarket organization will be meeting needs far more compelling than a weekly paycheck.