"Can you believe Fred had a heart attack in our weekly meeting this morning? I didn't see it on the agenda!"
"How does he expect the rest of us to wait on customers this week when all I keep picturing is him slumped over the service counter?"
"Then to top it off, he gets a week off to rest at a swanky hospital up on the north side of Chicago."
OK, so maybe this is a little far-fetched, a touch dramatic, but the truth of the matter is that millions of people are experiencing "deadness" in the workplace. Some call it burnout; some call it being stressed out. We have become a society of speed and complexity. As the American workers of the new millennium are pushed to be faster, better, more efficient, more customer-focused, more of this, less of that, they are slowly being buried alive in their work. So maybe the scenario described above isn't so far from the truth?
As employers begin to notice that those rah-rah speeches and the monthly all-store meetings intended to fire everyone up don't have the same effect as they used to, they are going to have to find a new way to stir the aliveness of their workforce Oh sure, there are many retailers who give signing bonuses to new employees, special lunches, special breakfasts, special spiffs, bigger spiffs, special hours, more hours, less hours, flexible hours . . . some have even installed cappuccino machines in the break rooms or serve Starbucks coffee in order to satisfy the insatiable needs of their employees. The goal: Coercing employees to show up happier, be more productive, be more customer-focused and sell more. Would you settle for employees that, at least, show up and sell . . . something . . . anything . . . please?
So, what happens when the temporary newness of all these amenities wears out? When your employees are still left wanting more and showing up less? Please, don't get me wrong here; I am not trying to say that the workers of today are spoiled. People need to get a sense of purpose and significance from their work in order for them to feel fulfilled about what they do. Companies cannot fill the human needs for significance and purpose with an improved spiff or a double decaf, no-foam latte!
How does an employer instill a sense of aliveness and passion in the workplace? The responsibility does not fall solely on the employer. Let me repeat this point. The responsibility does not fall solely on the employer! The responsibility lies mainly in the suppliers. That's correct, the suppliers. I am not speaking of the suppliers we view in the traditional sense of the word, such as those who supply product lines and sample books. I'm talking about the suppliers who walk through the front door of your establishment Sunday through Saturday, whose unseen invoices you pay every two weeks in the form of paychecks and who collectively fulfill one of the most vital needs you have in order for your organization to succeed.
This unique combination of gifts, talents, and abilities is known as your workforce. Your workforce molds and defines your image, your level of service and customer satisfaction and, most importantly, the bottom line of your business. What would happen if these suppliers started treating you like a customer? What if these suppliers treated you like their only customer and the success of their businesses depended on keeping you satisfied?
Let me introduce you to the "alive@work" theory of self-employment. Everyone is self-employed! Everyone has his or her own set of unique gifts, talents and abilities that they sell to their employer. In reality, you, the employer, are really the customer! If an employee doesn't like the work, the hours, the job, he can always sell his unique services to someone else. Another "customer" might be willing to pay more for his services than you are, but if an employee believes the problem with his current job is solely the fault of the employer, chances are the same problem will show up at his new place of employment, too.
Often these types of "suppliers" start moving from one customer to the next believing that the employer is the one who is at fault. Some of these people probably have sat in your office during an interview, explaining that they just didn't "fit in" at the last place and how different it would be if you would just give them a chance to work for you. You agree to hire them, you agree on a start date, they walk out of your office and you never see them again. An epidemic is born.
THE 'WOULDJUST' DISEASE
It is so easy for an employee to sit back and complain instead of changing. People get comfortable in their jobs; they know what they have to do. It may be the same old boring thing day in and day out but they do it, partially just because that is what they know and are comfortable with. They don't challenge themselves or test their skills; they simply sit and complain, infected by the "wouldjust disease." It sounds something like this:
"I would sell more if the owner wouldjust give me the hours I want."
"I would work harder if they wouldjust pay me more money."
"I would show up more often if they wouldjust . . ."
The disease can spread through all aspects of life. "My marriage would be great if my spouse wouldjust . . . "
The cause of the problem is always something on the outside, never on the inside. If the problem were inside, people would have to take responsibility for dealing with it or having to work through it. Sure, they could blame it on the fact that their mothers never cuddled them and their fathers never went to their baseball games or piano recitals. I don't mean to disrespect anyone who has been faced with serious issues growing up or who has been abused. Nevertheless, eventually one has to say, "Enough is enough. It is my life, I am responsible (taking ownership) and I have to move on. It is not the responsibility of my boss to make me happy."
If a person is to move towards aliveness in his work, he first must shift to this mentality of being self-employed.
So, how are your suppliers? How are they treating you, their one and only customer? Do you have a list of preferred suppliers, or are you hoping some miracle employee will waltz through your front door so you can get rid of the current problem supplier you tolerate because no one else has shown up? Companies are always looking for good suppliers, and they are willing to do whatever they can to keep the great ones. Do you have any great ones? Right now are you scrolling the list of your employees in your mind thinking about which ones you'd hate to lose and which ones you wish would leave?
WHAT DO YOU DO?
Starting today, begin asking your employees if they would like to be self-employed. Tell them that you've decided that effective today you're going to view them as suppliers. Of course, they're going to look at you as though you've lost your mind, but explain to them this concept of being self-employed. Better yet, have them read this article. Tell them that because you are paying for their services, you would like to work with them just like you'd work with any other supplier to improve your relationship. After all, customer-supplier relationships are a two-way street. Then just sit back and look at the astonished look on their faces.
You may want to go one step further and print up business cards for each one of them leaving a blank space for their name and title so they can fill it in: John Smith Enterprises, John Smith, President and CEO. If you need a little push, call me and I will send you a business card that you can hand to your employees, excuse me, suppliers to fill out. I have done this with hundreds of people in a corporate audience and the impact is extremely powerful. The idea is to shift the culture in your organization and to help your employees take responsibility for their work.
THE POWER OF OWNERSHIP
There is a certain pride of ownership when your name is on the door. As a business owner, you know exactly what I mean. Can you remember the first day you took ownership of your business, your store or your department? Do you remember that sense of significance, that feeling of aliveness when you realized this was your deal? As I mentioned previously, human beings have a basic need to belong, to be and feel significant, to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It is not a need that can be met with more money, different hours or the right coffee, and although others may tell you differently, the effect is always temporary. I have never heard of a person on their deathbed say: "I wish I had made more money," or "I wish I drank a different brand of coffee."
If you're one of those employers who simply throw more money or more benefits at your employees when they're unhappy, let me ask you, how is that working for you? How long did the feeling of euphoria last until they were once again moping around the store, showing up late for work, or just showing up physically and not mentally if they show up at all?
Yes, thousands of people are dying at work every day. As an employer, you are faced with the seemingly impossible task of trying to bring a sense of aliveness and passion to your workforce. The very existence of your business depends on it as the market seems to shrink a little more every day, and the competition seems to bare its fangs with every new advertisement. Addressing this problem might appear to be easier if you just throw a little more money at your employees instead of creating an environment for a cultural shift to occur. However, in the end you will benefit so much more if you cast your vision beyond what appears to be on the surface and look at the deeper issues of ownership responsibilities. Of course, the second option is a little more risky, but after all, you didn't start your business because you do things the way everyone else does . . . did you?
Joe Contrera is a motivational speaker, a personal and professional coach. He runs a company called alive @ work LLC in Hawthorn Woods, IL. He works with people who want to be "alive" in the workplace and business executives who want to create environments for their people to flourish. For more information or for availability please contact him at (877) 97-ALIVE.