Employer commitment to employees part of process

March 16, 2009
| By Tom Cole |
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(Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a two-part series.)

In the upcoming months, legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act may be enacted by congress. While this is viewed by many as “pro-union,” the following expresses ways companies can be “pro-employee” and help retain an employee’s “free choice” in the work place.

Sharing company performance results

Today’s work force is more educated than 20 years ago. People in entry level positions have at least a high school diploma and many have advanced degrees. They have a better understanding of what the “numbers” mean when looking at a company’s performance. This is especially true for employees in 401(k) plans who make investment choices. Additionally, they want to know what is going on with the company that impacts their lives and families. They may also be better at “handling” adverse situations on both an intellectual and emotional level.

Companies that routinely share performance results with employees have a more cohesive “team” approach to understanding what it takes to meet goals. They recognize it isn’t done by one person or a select few, but by everyone doing their part. Sharing expectations and results in a clear and concise manner does not have to mean using complex spreadsheets, but can be done with simple graphs and pictures. Actual dollar amounts do not have to be displayed. Percentages and fractions showing relative values will be just as effective. Establishing short-term targets and showing progress toward them lets everyone know what the future may hold, and what they can do to impact it. Problem areas can be identified and worked on by everyone as a team.

Employee communication

Assign this responsibility to a knowledgeable, responsible member of management, who has access to senior management and is respected and trusted by employees. Most importantly, the person should know how to condense sometimes complex financial data into an effective results-oriented communication.

Employees as family

As employees we spend at least a third of our day working with others in the same environment. All employees should be treated as if they are part of the company’s family … which they are. Listen to their ideas, respect their opinions, and discuss the consequences of their thoughts. When employees understand how all the pieces of running a successful company work together, they have a better appreciation of their own efforts, and that of the team, in reaching goals. Each employee knows their job more intimately than anyone. Often things they see that may be detrimental to the team’s goal may be changed, rather than continuing to do what they’ve been told without questioning their purpose.

Communications with employees

Employee meetings: Many companies have gatherings, both informal and formal, with employees. Bringing a company’s complete team together on a regular basis promotes shared visions, camaraderie and consistency in communication. Meetings should have an agenda, be moderated by a competent person, and discuss significant topics that are important to both the company and employees. They should be “orchestrated” with a beginning and an end and with as much of a “feel good” environment as possible. They do not have to be long, but should be on a regular basis. Part of the focus should be to acknowledge the impact employees have on company results and encourage questions. Finally, employees should be paid for attending.

Speak-Up: There are several facets of this program, but the main purpose is to encourage employees’ thoughts, reactions and concerns. This is more than a “suggestion” program. Using forms available throughout the work place, employees are encouraged to express what’s on their minds. They can be signed or anonymous, and are returned to the company through locked boxes for retrieval by someone assigned the responsibility to follow up. Responses can be through a direct response to the author; a more effective way is to compile a list of concerns and address them in department meetings or make them part of an employee meeting if they are appropriate to everyone. They can be posted on a bulletin board for a quick response.

One-on-one with senior management: Everyone wants to talk with the boss. Arrange a time for this to occur, i.e. birthday week, with employees selected from a random drawing of those who want to be considered. Publish the results of general interest of those meetings with everyone, making sure it is employee directed.

Newsletters and such: Today’s technology in communication goes far beyond typical newsletters. Podcasts, CD/DVDs, blogs, e-mails, etc., are also effective tools. The advantage of electronic format is the ability to quickly address issues and distribute information concisely and consistently to everyone at the same time, including the employee’s family, as many issues, such as health care, require the family’s input.

One-on-one evaluations: They have been around for years and often are viewed by both supervisors and employees with apprehension. If they are well thought out, beyond checking a box of predetermined areas on a form, with the purpose to objectively encourage performance, they can be a very effective way to have open communications with individual employees. However, management conducting the evaluations should be trained in the most effective way to carry them out.

“Thank you”: Far too often we focus on the negatives. Recognizing the things employees do well day-after-day emphasizes the positive. Simple “thank you “notes or other form of recognition may seem trite, but they say a lot about appreciating the employee. Special recognition “rewards” show everyone how valuable each employee is to the team; if you send them home, it may have an even greater impact.

Train management in communications

We sometimes think we are communicating effectively with others when we aren’t. If the person to whom we are trying to convey a message doesn’t understand what we’re saying, it’s our responsibility to try a different approach. Teachers understand there are different ways children learn. Even as adults we learn and understand in different ways: by reading, by listening and by pictures. A company needs to recognize this and train managers and supervisors in how to conduct communications. They should understand the various “tools” to communication and how to implement them most effectively.

Tom Cole is a principal with P3HR Consulting & Services LLC of Grand Rapids, which has more than 100 years of experience in HR management.

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